Headed to ATX

2 Houston companies named pitch finalists for SXSW 2019

Two Houston companies will be pitching at SXSW in March hoping to win their categories and take home "Best of Show." Marie Ketring/via sxsw.org

In two months, a couple Houston companies will be packing their bags and headed for Austin, where they will pitch their startups at the 11th annual SXSW Pitch event. SXSW announced the 50 finalists on Wednesday.

A total of six Texas companies — two from Houston and four from Austin — will be presenting to a live audience and panel of judges at the March 9 to 10 competition. There are 10 categories, each with one winner, as well as an overall "Best of Show" winner.

Houston-based Fluidity Technologies will be presenting as its drone controller, FT Aviator, has been named a finalist in the Hyper-Connected Communities category. Fluidity is lead by CEO Scott Parazynski, a former NASA astronaut, pilot, and physician. The FT Aviator has the potential to revolutionize drone technology. The joystick-like controller is based off movement in space, Parazynski says, and is less prone to user error by someone not as well trained in drone operation.

"I've flown aircraft and spacecraft," Parazynski says in an InnovationMap article about the company. "But none allowed for the precision of motion I was looking for. None prevented unintended motion."

The other Houston company selected as a finalist is Zibrio SmartScale, which is in the Health and Wearable category. The company is all about balance. Its product, a smart scale that tracks balance, aims to reduce dangers that come with poor balance — injuries, deaths, and costs from falls. Katharine Forth leads the company as CEO and founder. The company was a member of TMCx's 2015 medical devices cohort.

SXSW's competition this year has expanded to include new categories and has seen an increase in startups.

"We have seen a 42 percent rise in applicants coming out of last year's event, and we couldn't be more thrilled to see such an impressive increase in the value of SXSW Pitch among the tech industry's most innovative startups," says SXSW Pitch Event Producer Chris Valentine in the release. "In addition to the creation of the new AI and blockchain categories, we've also expanded our advisory board to highlight geographic, gender, and racial inclusion – accelerating our desire to represent the world's most innovative and successful leaders in all areas of technology."

It's not just in the finalists that Houston is represented — two advisers are from the Bayou City. Mariam Jacob, of Allergy and Asthma Clinics of Houston, will be a pre-event coach, and Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston, will be an on-site coach.

ArtPark Moving Studios — a local nonprofit that provides art programming for at-risk children — took home a big prize at last year's Project Flourish. Courtesy of First Presbyterian Church

First Presbyterian Church of Houston launched the second round of Project Flourish, a social entrepreneurship contest, on August 18.

The contest is "a creative invitation to the community to help bring fresh ideas to the issues that face a major metropolitan city like Houston," reads a news release. The pitch competition is open to for-profit or nonprofit ideas. What's on the line? Up to $250,000 in seed money, to be divided among an undetermined number of winners as the judges see fit.

Although the church has held the competition in the past, it has made some changes to the newest iteration of the program. Past applicants were not required to have a Houston focus, but this year's individuals and teams must live within 50 miles of downtown Houston and their idea must impact Houston. Those who make it to the semi-final round will be invited to join the eight-week accelerator program, in which they will receive consulting and mentoring in preparation for pitching their ideas to the judges.

Austin Hermann, FPC's Director of the Center for Faith, Work, and Innovation, oversees Project Flourish. When InnovationMap asked him why the contest matters for Houston, Hermann says it's about lending a helping hand to Houston entrepreneurs.

"When you look at all the different groups that are trying to start things in Houston, there's a major gap in the ecosystem… Project Flourish is trying to fill that gap," he says. "We want to connect Houston-based and Houston-focused entrepreneurs who are in the earliest stages of idea formation to the resources of a church — social, intellectual, and financial capital — in a way that other institutions don't because they're not interested in small deals. [We offer] impact investing for and towards groups of individuals who can't get that access anywhere else."

According to a release, in Project Flourish's inaugural round, which concluded in March 2018, funding recipients included art studio on wheels nonprofit ArtPark Moving Studios, which won $55,000, and Rescue Houston, which claimed a $45,000 prize and focuses on empowering victims of sex trafficking.

Hermann says he's most excited about the new Houston emphasis this year as well as the opportunity to get new people involved. The program process is largely the same, but allows a new set of entrepreneurs, application screeners, navigators, skills coaches, and judges to take part.

"We're putting a call out for new ventures [that are] seeking the good of Houston."

For more information or to apply, please visit projectflourish.org. The application is live now through November 1.