Masschallenge accepted

International accelerator launches next program in downtown Houston

Midway's GreenStreet in downtown will be the site of MassChallenge Texas' Houston program. Photo via greenstreetdowntown.com

Houston entrepreneurs will have a new accelerator program to choose from — and this one has an international presence.

MassChallenge Texas, which launched in Austin last year, has expanded to include a Houston program that will operate out of downtown's GreenStreet, which is owned and operated by Houston-based Midway Cos. Applications for the 2019 cohort open in April, and the six week program runs from July through August.

The program looks for applicants that haven't raised more than $500,000 in equity-based funding and have generated less than $1 million in revenue over the past year, a release says. The cohort will support 25 startups with free GreenStreet office space, mentorship, investment opportunities, and more, all the while taking no equity in the companies.

By expanding to Houston, MassChallenge Texas is continuing its commitment to strengthening and growing the innovation ecosystem across the Lone Star State, working to make Texas the best place in the world to innovate.

Almost two years ago, the city released a report in which a task force investigated matters pertaining to innovation in Houston.

"In this report, we realized that Houston has a thriving innovation economy, but its potential is limited by the absence of a flourishing startup community," says Mayor Sylvester Turner in a release. "A key recommendation was to create critical mass in a few key areas with access to 'legacy industry' and institutional players as well as an unparalleled array of amenities."

On par with this dedication to developing innovation in Houston, the Downtown Redevelopment Authority has approved an economic development grant to operate the program. The grant will cover up to $2.5 million of operation costs to be distributed to the organization over five years, the release says.

"MassChallenge is an opportunity that we pursued in earnest," says Bob Eury, president of Central Houston and the Downtown Redevelopment Authority, says in the release. "[The grant is] an investment that we believe will garner long-term results for the GreenStreet development, Downtown and the Houston region."

MassChallenge also has locations in Boston, Israel, Mexico, and Switzerland, as well as vertical programs focused on digital health and fintech. Its Texas program was the second location in the United States and the seventh in the world. Since the April 2018 launch in Austin, MassChallenge Texas and its partners have worked to accelerate 84 companies from 5 continents, 11 countries, and five Texas cities and doled out $500,000 to startups.

"The success of the inaugural MassChallenge Texas accelerator proves that the MassChallenge model works in Texas," says John Harthorne, CEO of MassChallenge, in the release. "Houston has a strong emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem and is home to technology-advanced legacy industries—such as energy, life sciences and aerospace — that can be leveraged to help startups at their earliest stages. We are excited to bring MassChallenge to Houston."

A Houston entrepreneur has brought in a technology to prevent major flood damage. Photo courtesy of HAR

Tasha Nielsen was on a trip to Denmark when she came across a Danish company making strides in flood prevention techniques.

"We were visiting family one day when we turn on the news and see FloodFrame's brand launch," Nielsen says. "The inventors live in Denmark, and they've done installations in Denmark, Germany and England, and they've been very successful."

That company partnered with the Danish Technological Institute and the Danish Hydraulic Institute and worked for years perfecting their flood prevention system. After Nielsen asked whether she could contract FloodFrame to install their system at her home back in Houston, she learned the founders weren't interested in coming over themselves to expand their business to the United States.

So, Nielsen took the reins to create the U.S. iteration of FloodFrame. The company provides flood protection to any building, including your home or business. And while it definitely takes inspiration from its European counterpart, Nielsen used her degree in civil engineering from Texas A&M — specifically her speciality in hydraulics, hydrology and storm design — to launch the business in one of the most flood-ravaged cities in the United States: Houston.

FLOODFRAME USA Video via youtube.com

FloodFrame works by using buoyancy. A lightweight cloth is wrapped around a tube is installed underground outside the perimeter of your home or business. One end of that cloth is attached to a box that is also installed underground. As flooding begins, an automatic system will release the lids to deploy the inflation of the tube that will protect the structure. When the flood comes in, the system will float on top of the flood — kind of like a pool noodle — and protect the structure from the water.

FloodFrame adds a level of security during flooding events and can be considered more cost-effective when compared to the high cost of renovating or rebuilding after flooding.

"Right now we are focused on residential but I think there's a huge potential for it to go commercial. A lot of commercial buildings are self insured, and commercial developers, industrial developers, this would be a drop in the bucket for the overall cost of the entire project," Nielsen tells InnovationMap. "For homeowners, it's kind of a bigger expense, but I think there is the potential for homebuilders to include it as an option in the entire package of a new house because when you put it in to a mortgage, it's only another like $0.50 a month."

Nielsen and the company are wrapping up their time in MassChallenge Texas' inaugural Houston cohort, which concludes early September.

Two years after Harvey, Nielsen thinks the city of Houston is doing the right thing by having workshops and meetings in order to work on ways to redesign the city so flooding isn't an issue.

"I do think there needs to be a better plan for what happens next year, instead of trying to prevent what happens in 20 years," she says. "They're already doing that part; they're working on it. I think there just needs to be more of an emphasis on 'what can we actually do to help people right now.'"