Minority and female business ownership in Harris County has been steadily growing, with female-owned businesses almost doubling from 2007 to 2012 and minority-owned business growing by more than a third over that time, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

According to the 2016 women-owned business report conducted by American Express, Texas is the third fastest-growing state for women-owned businesses, which have increased by 63 percent from 2007 to 2016.

This trend has been reflected in the Cy-Fair area as well, where a variety of female- and minority-owned businesses have opened over the past decade.

“It’s a matter of the American dream,” said Arnold Gacita, who runs Petra Oil Company in Cy-Fair and was named the 2017 Hispanic male entrepreneur of the year by the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “There are hardworking people coming here to make their dreams come true.”

An important presence

Chris Bilton, executive director of the Houston Minority Business Development Agency’s business center, said he believes the Houston area makes it easy for minorities and women looking to open businesses, and the HMBDA is there to help level the playing field with larger companies.

“People often say Houston is the land of opportunity,” he said. “You can come to Houston and start a business from scratch fairly easily. It’s a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of town. Folks can come and pretty much start anything.”

Gacita, who launched Petra Oil Company in 2010, said he originally moved to the U.S. from Cuba when he was 7 months old. Gacita said minority business owners are vital for a community because of the perspectives they bring.

“It’s always good to listen, even as a business owner, to the opinions of everyone in your organization because they all have had a different life,” he said. “They come from a different background so their opinion[s] [are] valuable. You need a little bit of everything in the business community to make a stronger and better community.”

Felicia Malloy, who opened custom children’s clothing store Suga Buga Baby in Cy-Fair in October, said she believes the surge in women-owned business is a good sign for younger women. Malloy said she thinks the Cy-Fair area is primed to see more minority- and women-owned businesses open in the coming years.

“There are so many different backgrounds [of people] that are business owners,” she said. “I think that Cy-Fair is most certainly ready for it.”

Malloy said although she did start her business in Cy-Fair for the convenience of the location, she also saw a need for female African-American business owners in the area.

“While I’ve seen a few female-owned businesses, I’ve seen few African-American-owned brick-and-mortar [businesses],” she said. “I know several who sell online and through social media, and I’ve connected with them, but none of them have brick-and-mortar [locations]. Some of them will actually be setting up in [this store].”

Vatsana Souvannavong, owner of Koala Kolache in Cy-Fair, said she thinks more minority and female business owners are launching in Cy-Fair because they are seeing others taking the plunge and reaping successful results.

“One reason why women and minorities are important in the business world is that it helps us step out of the job market,” she said. “We feel our potential is limited in the corporate world.”

Resources for beginners

Among the resources in the Greater Houston area are the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Lone Star College Small Businesses Development Center and the Cy-Fair chapter of the American Business Women’s Association.

Each resource provides support to business owners ranging from networking opportunities to classes for up and coming businesses.

Leslie Martone, president of the Cy-Fair Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber provides a variety of networking opportunities, such as luncheons, guest speakers and meetings, as well as resources for all chamber members.

“It would be the same services we provide any of our members, like different business resources throughout our committees or speakers and information that they present,” she said. “We provide opportunities to network with one another as well as being able to connect them with a specific type of person in an industry or a specific type of customer and helping them reach a person who may be looking for their kind of service.”

Gacita said although he is not heavily involved in local economic development entities, he believes it is important to build a group of likeminded entrepreneurs when first starting out.

“The Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is an incredible source for not only Hispanics but other people,” he said. “They have been great to us and introduced us to many other business people. If you need a [certified public accountant], a mentor, or a banker, they can refer many.”

The Hispanic chamber provides a variety of services, including legal and financial advice, as well as classes to aid businesses getting started. Chamber President Laura Murillo said it provides assistance with everything from cybersecurity and technology to networking and professionalism. Membership increased from under 500 members in 2007 to 4,100 members in 2017, she said.

The Cy-Fair Express Network, which serves as a local chapter of the ABWA, helps women start businesses by providing support. Deborah Bracken, who opened Some Like It Hot Yoga and Fitness in Cypress in 2016, said the network has helped her raise funds and promote her business.

“I have a table at the [CYFEN Women’s] Expo, and that provides exposure and [opportunities to] talk to a lot of people,” she said. “I also took out a loan with the SBA to help start up my business.”

Meanwhile, the Lone Star College SBDC provides consultations and holds workshops and seminars for small businesses, both new and old. The center also advises startup business owners who are working on a business plan, SBDC Executive Director Miguel Lopez said.

The center’s main office is at LSC-University Park on Hwy. 249, but the center employs four full-time advisors who work at other campuses in the Lone Star College System, Lopez said

The HMBDA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce and is funded by a grant through the Houston Community College System, Bilton said. He said the center works to help minority-owned firms reach their full potential by offering business consulting services and helping connect business owners with the right contacts.

For example, Bilton said many of the center’s 82 clients are construction firms. The center helps these firms land contracts by working on their pitches and then connecting them with the person making the decision for that contract.

Knowledge for the future

Business owners in Cy-Fair said there are a number of resources available in the area to help minorities and women aspiring to launch their own businesses.

Gacita said he believes minority business owners should avoid limiting themselves. They should want as much business and community involvement as possible, he said.

“I think it’s not about looking the same or talking the same or coming from the same place,” he said. “Regardless of what minority you are, don’t get stuck on that. That doesn’t mean you’re not proud of your heritage, it doesn’t mean that you’re not proud of where you come from. You want to think broader than that. You want to serve the entire community.”

Bilton said the HMBDA also teaches business owners not to focus on the race of clients but rather on how to reach everyone and how to be professional.

“We coach our clients on how to present themselves,” he said. “We talk about focusing on merit versus race. Go in and say, ‘These are the projects I’ve worked on before, and this is how I was successful.’ We help them make that pitch.”

Souvannavong said she wishes someone told her about the dedication required to own and run a business.

“It takes a very self-disciplined, strong-willed person to do this,” she said. “It takes a lot of mental strength.”

Additional reporting by Zac Ezzone