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Pitch competition returns to Houston with cybersecurity-focused event

Houston-based Hatch Pitch will host two competitions in spring of 2020 — one marks the return of the competition to the Bayou City. Photo courtesy of Hatch Pitch

For eight years, Greg Wright has been organizing a SXSW pitch competition in Austin for startups from around the world that are using technology to improve life. In 2020, Wright is bringing Houston-based Hatch Pitch back into the Bayou City — a goal he's had for a while — for a new cybersecurity-focused event.

"Many people know us as being associated with Austin and SXSW, but not many people know us as being based in Houston," Wright tells InnovationMap. "There's been a big push to bring Hatch back to Houston, and what we've been struggling with is finding the right vehicle."

After Hatch Pitch Summit returns to Austin for its ninth year on March 16, Cyber Hatch will be hosted by the annual Houston Cyber Summit on April 28. Applications for both competitions are open and available online.

"We are excited to bring Hatch Pitch to Houston for the first time since 2013," says Wright, founder of the competition, in a press release. "The gathering of all this expertise at Houston Cyber Summit is the perfect place to foster innovation. It's an opportunity to meet and exchange ideas between startups, investors, customers, partners, leaders and change-makers."

The Houston Cyber Summit, which is going into its fourth year, will introduce a new innovation track to the event, which attracts cybersecurity experts from across industries. The pitch competition will shine a spotlight on early-stage companies creating safety and security online.

"The Houston Cyber Summit annually brings together a highly qualified, trusted network of business, government and academic leaders from across the Greater Houston region and beyond," says Umesh Verma, founder of Houston Cyber Summit and CEO of BLUE LANCE. "Partnering with industry leader Hatch Pitch, adds a new and exciting dimension to the cybersecurity and privacy landscape of our region and creates a new set of high paying jobs."

For each of the two spring competitions, four finalists will be selecting from hundreds of applications from companies around the world. All eight finalists will have access to mentors before pitching at the live events where they will field questions from the panel of judges. Similar to years prior, the pitches will be live streamed.

Over the past near decade, Hatch Pitch finalists have gone on to raise over $360 million and seen 11 successful exits. Recently Houston-based Braincheck, which won the competition in 2016, raised an $8M series A round earlier this year.

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Building Houston

 
 

Veronica Wu, founder of First Bight Ventures, recently announced new team members and her hopes for making Houston a leader in synthetic biology. Photo courtesy of First Bight Ventures

Since launching earlier this year, a Houston-based venture capital firm dedicated to investing in synthetic biology companies has made some big moves.

First Bight Ventures, founded by Veronica Wu, announced its growing team and plans to stand up a foundry and accelerator for its portfolio companies and other synthetic biology startups in Houston. The firm hopes to make Houston an international leader in synthetic biology.

“We have a moment in time where we can make Houston the global epicenter of synthetic biology and the bio economy," Wu says to a group of stakeholders last week at First Bight's Rocketing into the Bioeconomy event. "Whether its energy, semiconductor, space exploration, or winning the World Series — Houstonians lead. It’s in our DNA. While others look to the stars, we launch people into space.”

At First Bight's event, Wu introduced the company's new team members. Angela Wilkins, executive director of the Ken Kennedy Institute at Rice University, joined First Bight as partner, and Serafina Lalany, former executive director of Houston Exponential, was named entrepreneur in residence. Carlos Estrada, who has held leadership positions within WeWork in Houston, also joins the team as entrepreneur in residence and will oversee the company's foundry and accelerator that will be established to support synthetic biology startups, Wu says.

“First Bight is investing to bring the best and the brightest — and most promising — synthetic biology startups from around the country to Houston," Wu continues.

First Bighthas one seed-staged company announced in its portfolio. San Diego-based Persephone Biosciences was founded in 2017 by synthetic and metabolic engineering pioneers, Stephanie Culler and Steve Van Dien. The company is working on developing microbial products that impact patient and infant health.

Wu, who worked at Apple before the launch of the iPhone and Tesla before Elon Musk was a household name, says she saw what was happening in Houston after her brother moved to town. She first invested in Houston's synthetic biology ecosystem when she contributed to one of Solugen's fundraising rounds. The alternative plastics company is now a unicorn valued at over $1 billion.

“I founded First Bight because of what I see is the next great wave of technology innovation," she says at the event. "I founded it in Houston because the pieces are right here.”

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