teamwork

Houston incubator announces merger with local nonprofit

Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, and Jeff Reichman, founder of Sketch City, have announced a partnership between their organizations. Photos courtesy

Two Houston organizations that have partnered for three years to provide a platform for innovation and ideation have announced a more formalized partnership.

Impact Hub Houston, a global impact innovation incubator, and Sketch City, a nonprofit focused on advancing technology and data in public decision making and social good, have announced the merger of Sketch City into a new initiative under Impact Hub Houston: Code for Houston.

"We're honored to continue Sketch City's work of connecting Houston's tech talent with civic innovation opportunities through Code for Houston," says Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, in a news release. "From our response and recovery collaboration after Hurricane Harvey to our ongoing events that help diverse do-gooders and developers collaborate on and create impactful solutions for Houston, we have established a strong track record of effective #Tech4Good initiatives."

The two organizations have worked together to host Open Project Night and the Houston Hackathon over the past few years. Jeff Reichman, principal at Houston-based data science consulting firm January Advisors, founded Sketch City in 2016.

"We are so excited to join forces with Impact Hub Houston," Reichman says in the release. "Their mission is directly aligned with ours. Sketch City began as a way to connect people with shared interests in technology, data, and civic improvement. Within a few years, it has grown into a community of thousands of people who live all over the world."

The merger comes following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic — something Reichman says has led him to rethink how Sketch City operates.

"Merging Sketch City with Impact Hub Houston feels like a natural extension of the work we've done together; and it creates additional administrative capacity for programming and community growth," Reichman continues in the release. "Sketch City's efforts will continue under Impact Hub Houston's 'Code for Houston' initiative. I'm thrilled to be a part of that new chapter."

Sketch City and its initiatives will roll into Code for Houston, a new initiative under Impact Hub Houston that aligns with Code for America — a national organization that works with community organizations and governments to build digital tools, change policies, and improve public programs.

Code for Houston will streamline operations for Impact Hub Houston's annual hackathons, which includes the Houston Hackathon and Climathon Houston, as well as expand resources and support for Houston's changemakers and civic technologists who want to transform their ideas into viable triple-bottom-line businesses and impact ventures, per the release.

"We look forward to continuing Sketch City's legacy of strengthening and activating relationships between Houston's tech talent and diverse communities," Rodriguez continues.

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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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