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."

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Building Houston

 
 

"There's something magical happening in Houston, and [VCs] want a piece of it." Photo via Getty Images

Houston's seen a growth in startup and venture investment — even amid the pandemic — and a group of Houston innovators sat down for a virtual event to discuss what's lead to this evolution.

The Greater Houston Partnership hosted an installment of its Houston Industry Series focused on Digital Tech on Thursday, September 24. The panel of experts, moderated by Krisha Tracy of Google Cloud, discussed how they've observed the paradigm shift that's occurred in Houston over the past few years — and why.

Missed the discussion? Here are some significant overheard moments from the virtual event.

“I think there really is an interest for venture capital here, both locally and also welcoming it from outside of Houston. … There’s something magical happening in Houston, and [VCs] want a piece of it. I think that magical piece is a renewed interest in collaborating.”

Stephanie Campbell, managing director of Houston Angel Network and co-founder of The Artemis Fund. "I think a lot [of this progress] is due to the GHP, Houston Exponential, and the founding of the HX Venture Fund to bring those venture funds to Houston to say, 'what's happening here?'" Campbell adds, saying that this connectivity and collaboration that's happening in Houston VC is unique.

“I think there’s a misconception around all we do is oil and gas and life science in Houston, but when you think about what VC-backable companies look like, they’re tech, they’re B2B SaaS, they’re highly scalable, and they don’t tend to be capital-intensive types of things we see corporate venture backing.”

Campbell says, adding "the connectivity and the interest in VC is really taking off. It's an exciting time to be in Houston and Texas in general."

“Plug and Play’s ventures team is based in Silicon Valley and one thing they enjoy about meeting Houston-based founders is valuations tend to be more reasonable than in the Bay Area."

Payal Patel, director of Plug and Play Tech Center in Houston. "There are gems to be found," she adds.

“I don’t know what it is — if it’s something in the water or just Texans being very friendly, but the investors here share deal flow. It takes a village, and I think we all understand a rising tide lifts all boats."

Patel says on the collaborative nature of Houston. "It's really magical."

“What you’re witnessing is a city that has been waiting for industrial innovation to reach the point where it can be adopted at a really high scale, and that happened around 2017.”

Jon Nordby, managing director at MassChallenge Texas in Houston. Nordby adds that MassChallenge in Houston hasn't been keen on consumer tech, or the "grilled cheese delivery apps," as he describes. "We like companies that are in love with problems, not so much in love with solutions. … We build really meaningful tech."

“Over the last year or two, we’ve seen that sleeping giant get awoken. Open and external innovation is newly adopted by more legacy industries where it wasn’t before — and that’s just created a mountain of opportunities for startups and investors alike.”

Nordby says on the shift toward this meaningful, problem-solving technology, which Houston is full of, as he observes.

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