Lasting impact

BBVA selects two socially impactful Houston startups for accelerator program

BBVA, which recently went through a rebranding process, selected two Houston startups for its accelerator program. Photo via bbva.com

Two socially minded entrepreneurs in Houston are getting a big boost from a bank-sponsored accelerator program.

The pair of entrepreneurs — leaders of socially focused ventures Eight Million Stories and Small Places LLC — are among 19 social entrepreneurs from across the U.S. chosen to join the BBVA Momentum accelerator program.

This year, BBVA Momentum features five months of online and in-person education lasting from June to November. Headspring Executive Development by Financial Times runs the online component, while the University of Texas at Austin's McCombs School of Business manages the in-person training. Each social entrepreneur is paired with a mentor from banking giant BBVA to provide one-on-one support throughout the program.

At the end of the program, BBVA awards prizes to ventures that have been identified as being highly sustainable and creating the most social impact. Last year's top venture took home $75,000 in equity funding.

Eight Million Stories

One of the two Houston-based startups that was selected for the program is Eight Million Stories, which was founded by Marvin Pierre. The organization helps formerly incarcerated youth (16 to 18 years old) through a free, voluntary four-month program designed to help them:

  • Build strong relationships in their communities.
  • Gain access to an array of social services.
  • Develop life and job skills.
  • Continue their education.
  • Secure meaningful employment.

Pierre says his program "seeks to upend the school-to-prison pipeline by supporting previously incarcerated young people in successfully transitioning back into their communities, and by curbing unnecessary referrals from schools to the juvenile justice system."

Pierre hopes to eventually roll out Eight Million Stories across the country.

"We believe that there are a lot of commonalities in terms of why kids end up in the juvenile justice system, whether it's broken homes or lack of support in the school system or other factors," Pierre says. "If you interview every kid in the system, you'll find there's a common thread. That's what we're trying to undo. If we attack those commonalities, then we can aggressively work to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline."

Small Places

Finca Tres Robles/Instagram

Today, the main focus of Small Places, co-founded by Daniel Garcia-Prats, is Finca Tres Robles (Spanish for Three Oaks Farm), Houston's only private farm inside the 610 Loop. The farm grows fruits, vegetables, and herbs that are sold to consumers directly by the farm and at local farmers markets.

"Agriculture is fundamentally about people, not plants," Finca Tres Robles says on its website. "While food is central to the work we do, the farm has the capabilities to impact other important areas of health. As an organization, our focus is on developing farms and agricultural spaces that can provide critical health-related services to communities that are need of basic infrastructure to support health."

Among the farm's projects is the Pre-K Produce Program. Finca Tres Robles estimates that thanks to the program, anywhere from $250,000 to $1.25 million in healthcare costs will be saved over the lifetime of the preschoolers.

Small Places also helps run the community farm at the Harris Health System's Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital and operates Houston's 3 Oaks Farms, which focuses on production of the moringa tree, the source of a nutrient-packed superfood.

In a nutshell, Small Places offers:

  • Farm development, management, and consulting services.
  • Education.
  • Community outreach.
  • Job training.

Small Places says it concentrates on "placemaking and community health, helping community- and health-related nonprofits, municipalities that have food security/access issues and progressive commercial developers that want to establish a culture of health in their neighborhoods."

The Ion's accelerator program has pivoted to more prominately feature startups with resiliency solutions. Photo courtesy of The Ion

The Ion's accelerator program has taken the current COVID-19 outbreak as an opportunity to focus on resiliency. The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator, as it's now known, will launch it's second cohort virtually at the end of the month.

"Resiliency has always been a core pillar of our accelerator — in my opinion, you really can't have a smart city unless you're a resilient city," Galib tells InnovationMap. "Language is so important to our culture, and we had not had that word in the accelerator, and so now we do."

The change is effective immediately and comes just ahead of the accelerator's second cohort, which will focus on air quality, water purification, and clean tech. Just like the first cohort, the selected startups will participate in a few months of programming — this time, all online — before entering into pilot programs with the city of Houston.

Later in this spring, the accelerator plans to call for remote education and online technologies. With schools closed, Galib says she's seen a need for tech optimization for both students and teachers.

"By harnessing smart technologies, cities become more resilient in the face of crises," says Gabriella Rowe, executive director of The Ion, in a news release. "The innovation of the Ion Smart & Resilient Cities Accelerator will empower and create the smart technology we need to keep our city's operations moving and our residents safe as we inevitably face sociological challenges and natural disasters. We are excited to play a role in improving our city's fabric and quality of life."

The first cohort resulted in a collective fifteen projects across nine startups. The program is backed by the city of Houston, Microsoft, Intel, and TXRX. The third cohort is expected to launch toward the end of 2020, and Galib says she's not sure what the focus will be yet.

"As we look toward the Ion's opening in January 2021, I look at the accelerator program and its capacity to accelerate entrepreneurship spirit," Galib says. "I truly see the next few months as a chance for us to double down on our efforts to find entrepreneurship everywhere in Houston so that we see every entrepreneur from all walks of life."