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

 
 

This health tech company has made some significant changes in order to keep up with its growth. Photo via Getty Images

With a new CEO and chief operating officer aboard, Houston-based DataJoint is thinking small in order to go big.

Looking ahead to 2022, DataJoint aims to enable hundreds of smaller projects rather than a handful of mega-projects, CEO Dimitri Yatsenko says. DataJoint develops data management software that empowers collaboration in the neuroscience and artificial intelligence sectors.

"Our strategy is to take the lessons that we have learned over the past four years working with major projects with multi-institutional consortia," Yatsenko says, "and translate them into a platform that thousands of labs can use efficiently to accelerate their research and make it more open and rigorous."

Ahead of that shift, the startup has undergone some significant changes, including two moves in the C-suite.

Yatsenko became CEO in February after stints as vice president of R&D and as president. He co-founded the company as Vathes LLC in 2016. Yatsenko succeeded co-founder Edgar Walker, who had been CEO since May 2020 and was vice president of engineering before that.

In tandem with Yatsenko's ascent to CEO, the company brought aboard Jason Kirkpatrick as COO. Kirkpatrick previously was chief financial officer of Houston-based Darcy Partners, an energy industry advisory firm; chief operating officer and chief financial officer of Houston-based Solid Systems CAD Services (SSCS), an IT services company; and senior vice president of finance and general manager of operations at Houston-based SmartVault Corp., a cloud-based document management company.

"Most of our team are scientists and engineers. Recruiting an experienced business leader was a timely step for us, and Jason's vast leadership experience in the software industry and recurring revenue models added a new dimension to our team," Yatsenko says.

Other recent changes include:

  • Converting from an LLC structure to a C corporation structure to enable founders, employees, and future investors to be granted shares of the company's stock.
  • Shortening the business' name to DataJoint from DataJoint Neuro and recently launching its rebranded website.
  • Moving the company's office from the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute (TMCx) to the Galleria area. The new space will make room for more employees. Yatsenko says the 12-employee startup plans to increase its headcount to 15 to 20 by the end of this year.

Over the past five years, the company's customer base has expanded to include neuroscience institutions such as Princeton University's Princeton Neuroscience Institute and Columbia University's Zuckerman Institute for Brain Science, as well as University College London and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. DataJoint's growth has been fueled in large part by grants from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"The work we are tackling has our team truly excited about the future, particularly the capabilities being offered to the neuroscience community to understand how the brain forms perceptions and generates behavior," Yatsenko says.

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