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.

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Building Houston

 
 

Here's what companies are in the latest cohort for gBETA. Photo courtesy of gBETA

An early-stage accelerator has picked its latest cohort of five Houston companies.

The Fall 2020 cohort of gBETA Houston includes:

  • AllIDoIsCook is founded by Tobi Smith and focused on exposing the world to Africa's cuisine by manufacturing gourmet food products delivered directly to customer doors and available at grocers. Since launching, AllIDoIsCook has built out a manufacturing facility, shipped over 8,000 boxes and generated $1.1 million in revenue all without outside funding.
  • Chasing Watts makes it easy for cyclists to coordinate or find rides with fellow riders in their area with its web-based and native application. The company has over 3,000 users and grew 135 percent from Q2 to Q3 in new ride views.
  • DanceKard, founded by Erica Sinner, is a new dating platform that connects individuals and groups with one another by bringing the date to the forefront of the conversation and making scheduling faster and easier with special promotions featuring local establishments. Since launching in August of 2021, DanceKard has over 170 users on the platform.
  • Dollarito is a digital lending platform that helps the low-income Hispanic population with no credit history or low FICO score access fair credit. Founded by Carmen Roman, Dollarito applies AI into banking, transactional and behavioral data to evaluate the repayment capability more accurately than using FICO scores. The company has1,000 users on their waitlist and plans to beta test with 100 or more customers in early 2022.
  • SeekerPitch, founded by Samantha Hepler, operates with the idea that jobseekers' past job titles and resumes are not always indicative of their true capabilities. Launched last month, SeekerPitch empowers companies to see who jobseekers are as people, and get to know them through comprehensive profiles and virtual speed interviews, and the company already has 215 jobseekers and 20 companies on the platform, with one pilot at University of Houston and three more in the pipeline.

The companies kicked off their cohort in person on October 18, and the program concludes on December 14 with the gBETA Houston Fall 2021 Pitch Night. At this event, each company will present their five-minute pitch to an audience of mentors, investors, and community members.

"The five founding teams selected for our gBETA Houston Fall 2021 cohort are tackling unique problems they have each experienced personally, from finding access to cultural foods, fitness communities and authentic dating experiences to challenges with non-inclusive financing and hiring practices," says Kate Evinger, director of gBETA Houston, in the release. "The grit and passion these individuals bring to their roles as founders will undoubtedly have a tremendous impact in the Houston community and beyond."

The accelerator has supported 15 Houston startups since it launched in Houston in early 2020. The program, which is free and hosted out of the Downtown Launchpad, is under the umbrella of Madison, Wisconsin-based international accelerator, gener8tor.

"Downtown Launchpad is an innovation hub like no other, and I am so proud of what it is already and what it will become," says Robert Pieroni, director of economic development at Central Houston Inc., in the release. "The five startups selected for the gBETA Houston Fall 2021 cohort are exploring new challenges that can become high-impact Houston businesses."

gBETA announced its plan to launch in Houston in September 2019. The program's inaugural cohort premiered in May and conducted the first program this summer completely virtually. The second cohort took place last fall, and the third ran earlier this year.

"These founders are building their companies and benefiting from the resources Downtown Launchpad provides," Pieroni continues, "and the proof is in the data – companies in these programs are creating jobs, growing their revenues and exponentially increasing their funding, which means these small starts up of today, working in Downtown Launchpad, are growing into the successful companies of tomorrow."

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