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fishing for help

Houston startup aims to streamline digital booking for aquatic adventures

Houston-based Captain wants to bring the fishing guides booking process into the digital age. Photo by Lum3n.com /Pexels

Fishing is always an exercise in patience, but by the time Jonathan Newar had planned his former work team's trip to New Braunfels, he had already lost all of his. The precious hours he would spend on the water were backed by so much more time reeling in dead ends on potential fishing guides online.

That's because, back then, there were no sites for Houstonians and Texans that compiled information about trips and properly vetted guides, who have to be insured and licensed — until Newar launched Captain in June.

Captain is a business for booking guided fishing trips. It's a little like Yelp for water sports — allowing people to read and write reviews about their experiences with the trips — but they can also book directly on the site, which keeps customers from the hassle of making reservations and lets the guides spend more time on the water and less in the office.

"The guides really love what we're doing," Newar says. "They're jumping on board."

Captain has more than 70 guides, offering over 160 trips, and caters to a market of the outdoor-oriented: fishermen, boaters, campers, the kind of person who spends their weekdays swiveling in a desk chair and weekends spooling line around a fishing rod. That might be a niche market, but it's not a tiny one; In 2016 alone, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reported that Americans spent $46.1 billion on fishing-related expenses.

And that's only fishing. Newar plans to cast a wider net, expanding Captain to include all kinds of outdoor sports trips — kayaking, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, and more. Right now, he's working alone to vet all the guides and make sure he gets the information right about each trip — for example, what kinds of fish clients can expect to catch, how long the trip lasts, if alcohol is allowed on the boat and whether the trip is family-friendly.

"It doesn't ruin your trip to not catch fish. Sometimes you don't catch fish," Newar says. "But what really ruins the trip is being paired with a guide who doesn't fit your need."

Captain, which recently completed MassChallenge Texas' inaugural Houston program, hasn't raised money yet — Newar wants to grow the company first, to widen his client base; after all, the Bayou City is a quick drive from plenty of fishing holes. And when Captain gets a full crew, Newar hopes it become a premier site for get people off their computers, out of the house and reconnected to the outdoors.

"We think Captain can solve a lot of interpersonal barriers," Newar says.

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Building Houston

 
 

Seven startups walked away with cash prizes from this year's MassChallenge accelerator program in Houston. Photo via Getty Images

MassChallenge named its winners of its 2020 accelerator at a virtual event on October 22. The program awarded a total of $200,000 in equity-free prizes across seven startups from its second Houston cohort.

This year's program took place completely virtually due to the pandemic. Already, the 56 startups involved in the cohort have raised $44.4 million funding, generated $24 million in revenue, and created 297 jobs, says Jon Nordby, managing director of MassChallenge Texas in Houston, in a news release.

"This has been a year full of change, to say the least," he says. "But startups thrive in uncertain times — because they can move fast and remain agile, they are able quickly meet each new need that arises. I'm extremely proud of the startups in our 2020 cohort — during the course of the program, they've pivoted, adjusted, and evolved in order to grow their businesses."

The startups that won across the Houston cohort included Houston-based PATH EX Inc., which won the $100,000 Diamond Award, is focused on the rapid diagnosis and treatment of sepsis through an unique pathogen extraction platform.

Four companies won $25,000 Gold Awards:

  • Healium, based in Columbia, Missouri, is an extended reality device created for self-management of anxiety.
  • Ozark Integrated Circuits Inc., based in Fayetteville, Arkansas, specializes in problem solving using technology and software in the harshest environments – from jet engines to earth orbit.
  • PREEMIEr Diagnostics, based in Southfield, Michigan, created a way to identify which premature infants need an adjustment to their glucose levels to prevent them from losing vision.
  • Scout Inc., based in Alexandria, Virginia, is developing the first commercial in-space satellite inspection service.

Two companies won the Sidecar Awards, securing each a $25,000 Innospark Artificial Intelligence Prize.

  • Articulate Labs, based in Dallas, makes mobile, adaptive devices to help knee osteoarthritis and knee replacement patients rehabilitate on the go during everyday activity.
  • Houston-based Starling Medical has tapped into tech to optimize urinary catheter for patients with neurogenic bladder dysfunction.
The Houston Angel Network awarded Ozark Integrated Circuits their prize of $50,000.
"The progress these entrepreneurs made in just a few months has all of the hope, drama, anticipation, and optimism of seeing dawn break after a particularly difficult night," says Wogbe Ofori, Principal at 360Approach and a MassChallenge mentor, in the release. "It's fulfilling, actually, and makes me proud to be a MassChallenge mentor."
The seven startups were awarded alongside 27 other startups from this year's Austin, Boston, and Rhode Island accelerators at the virtual event. The event was hosted by Chris Denson of Innovation Crush, and featured a fireside chat between Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, and Linda Pizzuti Henry, managing director at the Boston Globe.
Earlier this fall, MassChallenge named its 10 startup finalists, whittled down from 56 from 13 countries and 13 states to its first-ever virtual accelerator, which began in June.

"In the face of great uncertainty, MassChallenge Texas in Houston charged forward and did exactly what they ask their startups to do: love the problem," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "The successful pivot to virtual is a testament to the strength of their global community and the motivation of the Houston ecosystem to get behind new ideas and create businesses that will set roots and grow here.

"As one of the most innovative cities, Houston is a place where startups can thrive – even in the midst of a pandemic. Programs like MassChallenge provide the best practices and networks to ensure startups get the access they need to create sustainable businesses and lasting change."

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