small biz Slam dunk

BBVA Compass and the Houston Rockets team up to launch revamped startup contest

The winner of the contest will be announced at a Rockets game in early April. Courtesy of Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Houston startups have a chance at $10,000 thanks to the Houston Rockets and BBVA Compass' LaunchPad Contest. The application process begins on February 19 and concludes on March 5.

In its third installment, the contest is doing things a little differently this year. Previously, small businesses had to respond to questions about their organization and what they would do with the prize money. This year, with a special focus on startups, applicants are also being asked about using new technology to increase productivity.

"BBVA Compass is in a unique position and we want to leverage that to help elevate entrepreneurship through digital capabilities," says BBVA Compass Houston CEO Mark Montgomery in a release. "We are a leader in the financial industry's digital transformation, and have won multiple awards because of our innovative products and services in that realm. We want to create ample opportunities for a rising business through that industry-leading expertise. The Rockets are excellent teammates, and we are excited to unveil this new version of our collaborative contest with them."

Following the application process, BBVA and the Rockets will select four finalists before opening the contest up to fans to pick their favorite. The winner will then be announced at a game in early April. The winning company will receive, in addition to the $10,000, consultations with both BBVA and the Rockets executives.

"We are excited to partner with BBVA again for this annual contest," says Rockets Chief Revenue Officer Gretchen Sheirr in the release. "They have been best in class in their industry with their digital strategy, so it's fantastic that they will be providing an opportunity for other businesses to thrive in this space. We look forward to reviewing our fans' contest submissions and seeing the great work being done by startup businesses in our great city."

Last year's Launchpad winner was Buy On Purpose, according to a release. The office supply delivery company on the northside of town boasts same-day delivery and donates half its profits to organizations fighting human trafficking, clean water initiatives, and other causes.

Learn more about last year's winner here:

BBVA Compass and the Houston Rockets announce Buy On Purpose as its small business contest winner www.youtube.com

Camppedia, a Houston-based startup, can help match kids to summer camps all around town. Educational First Steps/Facebook

Tudor Palaghita and his sister Ana are both parents and both busy professionals. And both used the same word when it came to finding camps to help their kids pass the long, steamy summer: painful.

"We're working parents, we're strapped on time, but we want to make sure we give our kids enriching experiences," explains Ana. "One spring, we were going through the [camp search] process, and we talked about how difficult it was. And the next spring, we said, there's something here. We feel this pain, our friends feel this pain, and no one is helping us. Why don't we solve our problem ourselves?"

And that's exactly what they did. The duo used their business and technology backgrounds — Ana has an MBA from Northwestern University and built a successful career in a major financial institution, and Tudor has his Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from Georgia Tech — to launch Camppedia.com. The site is intended to be a one-stop shop for parents looking for camps for their children.

The tool launched in March of 2019, coinciding with spring break. Currently, it offers options throughout central Houston. Parents can select camps for their children based on interests, their ZIP codes, cost or even those that offer extended hours for moms and dads with full-time jobs.

"We believe the most important aspect to building anything is to understand your users," says Tudor, who left his research and development job at a major oil and gas services company to work full-time on Camppedia. "Before we launched, we did a lot of interviews and talked to a lot of parents, and then hand sketched prototypes to better convey our idea."

The pair went one step further after that, speaking with camp providers, seeking input about not only their products, but also the issue they faced in terms of marketing or registration. Following that fact-finding mission, they built Camppedia to show as many options as possible for families who want to book activities, as well as giving users the option to build their own calendars, save favorite options and see what camps actually have spots available. When parents select a camp, they are then driven to the individual camp's website to book.

Development on Camppedia, which is a member company at Station Houston, began last September, when the duo began looking at what to include on the site and finding partners who could assist them in building it.

"We looked at a bunch of different paths from a technology perspective," says Ana, who works on the site from her home in Virginia. "Because you can build the sort of the fancy, what I'd call destination-technology architecture, or you could build something scrappier, and I think we landed on something scrappy because we are still learning. Chances are [going forward] we'll change quite a bit."

Camppedia is built on WordPress, and currently features more than 275 camps from large to small. Tudor and Ana have been making improvements ever since, but the response has been enthusiastic. Parents, the pair say, have loved having so much information in one place. And camps have actually come to them, seeking information about how to be listed. That led to the creation of a camp partnership category, where camps can pay to use certain features on Camppedia's site, such as the ability to reach out to interested parents.

Going forward, the duo look forward to further building Camppedia as a resource. They're looking at adding reviews and experiences from parents, as well as finding ways to take the concept nationwide. But they're really happy with how the site has grown and the response they've had. The business, they insist, is designed to be a service that will support parents as they try to make the best decisions they can for their children.

"While the road ahead is daunting," says Tudor. "We are super excited about the possibility of building something truly useful for working parents who nowadays are struggling with so many competing priorities and whose needs seem to be somewhat overlooked by the digital reinvention coming out of Silicon Valley."


Photos courtesy of Camppedia