InnovateHER Competition

2017 InnovateHER Competition

Update: Congratulations our 2017 InnovateHER Local Winner!

  • Lyndsey Brantley - Camellia Alise, LLC

Congratulations Local Finalists & Honorable Mentions:

  • Anita Barksdale - Employment Help
  • Lindsy Bivens - The Author's Pen
  • Crissy Butts - 1HappyTribe International
  • Amber Cloud - The Computer Music Room
  • Jennifer Drew - The Tiny Heights
  • Colleen O'Connor - CAVU Biotherapies

SBA PR release, Photos and more coming soon. To see and hear the pitches from the trimmed version of the live stream, click play below: 

 Thank you to the community partners for supporting Houston's women entrepreneurs! A special thank you to our 2017 InnovateHER Judges:

  • Valerie Maher, Houston SBA District Office
  • Juliana Garaizar, Houston Angel Network
  • Tabbie Saenz, Circular Board & BakerRipley
  • Ana Rojas, TiE Houston
  • Kimberly Johnston, Good Works Houston

Houston Community College announces the local 2017 InnovateHER Competition sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

2017 InnovateHER: Innovating for Women Business Challenge, a nationwide business competition to drive attention and resources to innovative products and services that make our lives easier and longer.  Competitors vie for $70,000 in prize money provided to SBA for the InnovateHER competition through a gift from the Sara Blakely Foundation. 2017 InnovateHER Challenge is designed to help identify products and services that impact and empower the lives of women and families.

Women are in the workforce now more than ever, a number that is close to surpassing that of men. Gender equality is not simply about getting a woman a spot at the metaphorical table. Women have made great strides in education, the workforce, and their role in the economy, but there are still not enough women in leadership positions.

SBA recognizes that over the past two decades, women entrepreneurs have been critical to growing businesses and creating jobs, whether it’s in in cutting-edge fields like precision medicine or cyber security or through advances in agriculture or manufacturing.  Consider this: the number of women venture capital partners has dropped to 6 percent in 2014, down from 10 percent in 1999. This directly correlated with women’s access to capital; only about 7 percent of venture capital funding in the United States goes to women. A Harvard Business School study asked potential investors to rate a series of pitches, some of which were narrated by women and some by men. Even when the scripts were exactly the same, only 32 percent of people said they’d fund the woman, compared to 68 percent who said they would fund the man.

The InnovateHER Challenge

The InnovateHER Challenge celebrated its inaugural year in 2015. The InnovateHER Challenge 2016 included a local pitch competition component. From August 2015 through December 2015, universities, accelerators, SBA Resource Partners, Microsoft stores and other organizations hosted local competitions. Each host submitted one local winner to the SBA, who then identified 10 Finalists. These finalists were invited to travel to the Washington D.C. metro area on March 17, 2016 for a live pitch competition and compete for up to $70,000 in prize money.

InnovateHER provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs throughout the U.S. to showcase products and services that have a measurable impact on the lives of women and families (30%), have the potential for commercialization (40%), and fill a need in the marketplace (30%).

Entrepreneurs selected as winners in local competitions will advance to the semi-final round.  From the pool of semi-finalists, SBA will select up to 10 finalists who will be invited to the National InnovateHER: Innovating for Women Business Challenge to be held in mid-2017.  The finalists will pitch their products and ideas to a panel of expert judges and compete for the top three awards along with $70,000 in prizes.

Prize National for Winners: 1st Place- $40,000; 2nd Place $20,000; 3rd Place-$10,000


Contestants must develop a product or service that meets the following three Challenge criteria:

  • Has a measurable impact on the lives of women and families (30%);
  • Has the potential for commercialization (40%); and
  • Fills a need in the marketplace (30%)



  1. Citizen or permanent U.S. resident who is at least 18 years of age; and
  2. Private entities such as corporations or other organizations that are incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the U.S.
  3. Individuals submitting on behalf of corporations, nonprofits, or groups of individuals (such as an academic class or other team) must meet the eligibility requirements for individual contestants. An individual may belong to more than one team submitting an entry in this challenge.
  4. SBA employees are not eligible nor are Federal entities or Federal employees acting within the scope of their employment. Individuals or organizations that are currently suspected or disbarred by the federal government are not eligible for this Challenge.



Valerie Maher
Lead Economic Dev. Specialist
Houston SBA District Office

Valerie is the lead economic development specialist at Houston SBA District Office. Prior to joining the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Houston District Office in January 2017, Ms. Maher spent the previous 10 years working for the SBA’s National Guaranty Purchase Center in Herndon, VA as a Supervisory Loan Specialist. Ms. Maher was responsible for reviewing the origination, closing, servicing, and liquidation of 7a loans in order to process lender guaranty claims. In her new role, Ms. Maher will collaborate with an extensive network of public and private sector partners and represent the SBA at a variety of public functions through outreach and presentations/trainings in order to educate the small business community and economic development stakeholders about SBA programs and services and other small business topics.  To learn more about SBA:

Juliana Garaizar
Managing Director
Houston Angel Network

Juliana is the Managing Director Houston Angel Network, Senior Advisor of the Rising Tide Fund and Portfolia Consumer Fund and a Kauffman Fellow. Juliana was the Manager of the Sophia Business Angels network in the French Riviera and of Antipolis Innovation Campus, the Business Innovation Centre in Sophia Antipolis, as well as Project Manager of several International Projects funded by the European Commission. Previously, Juliana worked for 5 years in Singapore: first as an International Trade Consultant for the Trade Commission of Spain in a broad range of industry sectors and then as a Project Manager for the Asia Technology Office of Citigroup, leading projects at international level. Juliana obtained an MBA at the London Business School, specializing in Entrepreneurship!
To learn more about Houston Angel Network: and

Tabbie Saenz
Ambassador & Business Coach
Circular Board & BakerRipley

Tabbie Saenz has an economic and business background and has been working with startups for over 15 years. She has worked with economic development agencies throughout Latin America and Europe, was a consultant for numerous multilateral agencies and has served as the commercial advisor to the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia. She has extensive experience with the structuring of import and export activities, development of export compliance strategies, foreign-trade zones and representation relationships. With Circular Board she has worked with over 80 women entrepreneurs from all over the world connecting them to sources to capital, strategic partners, and mentors to help their businesses scale. Following her passion, she is currently a business coach for BakerRipley supporting Hispanic entrepreneurs in the city of Houston.
To learn more about The Circular Board:

Ana Rojas
Executive Director
TiE Houston

Ana moved to Houston in 2015 after living in South Florida for 28 years. As the Human Resource Director for a medium sized family owned company she learned the ins and outs of business operations. After working in corporate America for 12 years she decided to try something different and didn’t have to look very far once she moved to Houston. She is now the Executive Director for TiE Houston. TiE Houston is one of 58 global TiE chapters dedicated to the fostering of entrepreneurship. Through this experience she has gained additional insight on the behind the scenes work of business development, funding, nurturing, and everything else in between. When she’s not working with entrepreneurs she is writing on her blog:, about body positivity and empowerment.

To learn more about TiE Houston:

Kimberly Johnston
Founder & CEO
Good Works Houston

Kimberly is a partner in Ernst & Young LLP’s National Tax Department’s Energy Group located in Houston. Kimberly has 26 years of tax, finance and regulatory experience with Fortune 500 companies, State Public Service Commissions, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the US Treasury in the areas of strategy, tax policy, audit negotiations, rate making, and mergers and acquisitions. Kimberly was recently recognized as one of Houston’s 50 Most Influential Women by Houston Woman Magazine. The Corporate Executive Board recognized Kimberly for tax department redesign excellence. Kimberly also formed the Tax Executive Institute Chief Tax Officer forum of Houston. Kimberly is the founder and CEO of Good Works Houston. She is dedicated and compassionate to empower Houstonians in need to attain a life of quality. To learn more about Good Works:



Key Dates

  • May 31, 2017 - Training Session, West Loop Campus (5601 West Loop) 1:00 pm - 3:30 pm (Sign up:
  • June 5, 2017 - Deadline for Business Plan Submission by 11:55 pm
  • June 9, 2017 - Finalist Presentations at 3100 Main, Seminar Room; 2:00pm-4:00pm (Public Sign Link :
  • June 15, 2017  -  HCC submits local finalist to SBA! Each finalist will be offered the opportunity to participate in the InnovateHER Final Challenge to be held in July 2017 in Washington D.C. where they will make a live marketing pitch to a panel of expert judges drawn from the private sector. Finalists will be responsible for covering their own travel costs for the national competition. National Winners will be announced on July 31, 2017


Competition Opened on April 15, 2017 and will close on June 5, 2017

Training Session

The training session is offered (at no charge) to help develop a solid and winning Business Plan. Registration for the training session is required.

Training sessions will be at the:

HCC West Loop Campus Library
5601 West Loop
Wednesday, May 31st from 1:00pm-3:30 pm

If you need additional assistance with your business plan, individual assistance is available, please contact Mr. Brahmbhatt at or 713-718-5269.