UT-Austin think tank helps offer courses for small business owners in the Permian Basin

Katy Nelson

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the April 9 issue of The Daily Texan.

The IC2 Institute, a UT-Austin think tank, and the University of Texas-Permian Basin are collaborating to aid local entrepreneurs and small business owners who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program, named Small-biz.XLR8, is a 10-week course offered to small business owners in the Permian Basin region at no charge. The lead instructor, Gregory Pogue, said the program will be asynchronous with 20-minute training sessions and additional homework. 

“This allows us now to reach out to not only Midland-Odessa, but Andrews, Big Spring, Pecos, other communities throughout (the region) that are two, three hours away from each other,” said Pogue, the deputy executive director of IC2.  

Pogue said IC2 started the program after noticing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses owned by women and people from marginalized communities were significantly greater than they were on white, male-owned small businesses.  

“We asked the question, ‘How do we set up a program that will help these small business owners be ready to transform their business models so that they can be ready for it in the markets?’” Pogue said. “Can we do this in a manner that in the ongoing years the same training material will be relevant to them?”   

Pogue said the program and mentoring system is based on previous IC2 projects and is designed specifically for the Permian Basin, after the region suffered from an overproduction of shale, a soft, fine-grained rock used in oil and gas, due to the pandemic.

While the program is not initially open to students, they expect the project to expand in the fall to engage with students. Sophia Hennessy, an undergraduate research assistant at IC2, thinks expanding to students will benefit the project.

“I think getting more students involved that we have at the institute would be really great,” Hennessy said, “Because students have a different perspective on what they want in a community or in a business.” 

Taylor Novak, director of Blackstone LaunchPad at UT-Permian Basin, said the team is starting by offering the program to existing small businesses.  

“We’re targeting small businesses that are already in operation that either hit a plateau in sales or customers just looking to boost their current customer base and sales,” Novak said. “My hopes are that we can really help these small business owners that are either struggling or they want to grow their business even more. I really think that’s going to benefit them and then benefit our community in the long run.”

The institute held a similar program called FASTForward in the Austin area in 2017. Lian Amber, CEO of the company BASSBOSS, participated and said the program helped her company expand its customer base for mobile DJs. Valerie Ward, co-founder of Sweet Ritual Vegan Ice Cream, also participated in FASTForward and said she would recommend XLR8 to Permian Basin entrepreneurs. 

“I think the perspective that this class offers is applicable to all kinds of businesses in all areas,” Ward said. “I’m from San Angelo, and I know West Texas has become very creative and industrious and has done really amazing things, and so I’m really excited to see more resources and access move into that area.”