pitch perfect

Houston church launches social entrepreneurship pitch competition with $250,000 on the line

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.

Three Houston companies will pitch in Rice University's competition for veteran-owned startups. Courtesy of Rice University

Rice University will soon play host to its 2019 Veterans Business Battle, where 20 veteran-owned companies — three of which are from Houston — will pitch their business models and compete for prize money and investment offers.

On April 12, the 20 semifinalists will pitch to a panel of investors, who will choose the top five. Those finalists will pitch the next ay, April 13, in hopes of taking home some of the awards.

"We are very excited about the great group of companies that are coming to Houston next month," says event co-chairman Asad Akram in a release. "It's our goal to introduce them to a network that can help their businesses grow and succeed."

The Houston-based companies competing are Amor Oral, Welcome Connect and FeedMe Fitness, according to a release from Rice University. Amor Oral specializes in the manufacturing and sale of edible, organic personal lubricants. The company's lubricants are all water-based, and Amor Oral claims to offer the largest selection of flavored personal lubricants in the U.S.

FeedMe Fitness, another Houston competitor, is a subscription service that offers customized workouts and meal plans to its subscribers. Welcome Connect is a real estate platform that connects real estate agents with prospective buyers.

More than $3 million has been invested in veteran-owned businesses since the competition's launch in 2015. All the competitors are ultimately after the same thing: investments that will help them launch or expand. The competitor pool includes newly launched ventures and owner-operated businesses, per the Rice release, and all semifinalists can potentially receive investment offers.

A handful of competitors are from Texas. Those competitors include the Dallas-based companies And I Like It and City Gym, Floresville-based Harvard Telemedicine, Fort Worth-based Harvest Returns, Wimberly-based Power Polymer, Corpus Christ-based Rock N Roe Aquaponics, and Bryan-based Zanbazan.

The remaining competitors from around the U.S. are:

  • Gotta Have It Fan Foams, from Springfield, Virginia
  • Family Proud, from San Diego
  • High Country Air Service, from Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Knifehand Nutrition, from Syracuse, New York
  • Maco, from New York
  • Off Duty Blue, from Syracuse, New York
  • Randian, from Los Angeles
  • Reimbi, from Portland, Oregon
  • Safe Stamp, from Nashville
  • SEE ID, from Newcastle, Washington