Day Edwards, co-founder of ChurchSpace, and Margo Jordan, CEO of Enrichly, were among the recipients of grants from Google. Photos courtesy

Two Houston-based startups were named among 50 companies nationwide to receive $100,000 as part of the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund this month.

The $5 million fund aims to close the wealth gap for Black founders around the country by offering 50 $100,000 non-dilutive awards, meaning that the investment does not require founders to give up equity in exchange for funding. The award also includes programming, mentorship and access to free mental health therapy and now includes 176 founders in the United States.

ChurchSpace and Enrichly were the two Houston-based companies to receive the award.

ChurchSpace, known as the Airbnb for churches, is a mission-based company that aims to help churches convert underused real estate into event, meeting and commercial kitchen space to boost revenue and relieve financial burden while remaining compliant with IRS regulations for non-profits.

“We applied to Google for Black Startups to have the opportunity to gain perspective on how to build a better product and experience for our customers,” Day Edwards, co-founder of ChurchSpace, said in a statement. “We believe that being a part of the program will enable us as Black founders to better lead and build a tech-enabled platform that is eradicating church underutilization rates across the nation.”

The company recently participated in the inaugural cohort of the AWS Impact Accelerator for Black Founders, which included a pre-seed fundraising campaign and a $125,000 equity-free grant from Amazon. The company plans to launch the second iteration of its marketplace in December 2022.

Meanwhile, Enrichly provides on-site mental health curriculums for schools through machine learning, gamification and data automation. The company's logic model is designed to have short-term, mid-term and long-term results in students' goal setting abilities, emotion and stress management techniques, conflict resolution, etiquette, relationships, resilience and more.

“The Google for Startups Black Founders Fund is an incredible opportunity for the growth of our company.” Margo Jordan, CEO of Enrichly, said in the statement.

Enrichly plans to use the funds to expand its team and reach growth goals in the future.

Earlier this summer, Google for Startups also selected three Houston companies for its inaugural Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund. Read more about the companies selected here.
Amazon's accelerator focused on founders of color has helped Houston startup ChurchSpace reach new milestones. Image via bookchurchspace.com

Houston-based 'AirBNB for churches' startup completes Amazon accelerator, gathers fresh funding

now accelerating

Houston startup, ChurchSpace, recently participated in the inaugural cohort of the AWS Impact Accelerator for Black Founders, which included a pre-seed fundraising campaign and a $125,000 equity-free grant from Amazon.

The startup, coined as the “AirBNB for churches” is a tech-enabled marketplace that has a mission to minimize low utilization rate of church real estate across the country. Per the website, ChurchSpace is accepting congregations on its waitlist and is expected to launch this fall.

The AWS Impact Accelerator strengthened ChurchSpace’s efforts of turning underutilized church real estate into on-demand event, worship, and kitchen space. The program provides high-potential, pre-seed startups the tools and knowledge to reach key milestones such as raising funding or being accepted to a seed-stage accelerator program.

"Being a part of the inaugural Aws Impact Accelerator has changed the trajectory and tech build of ChurchSpace," says Day Edwards, CEO and co-founder of the company. "From the grant, to have the tech stack and resources needed to build Version 2 of ChurchSpace to ensure Churches can share their space safely has truly been a blessing. Before AWS we weren’t clear on our fundraising strategy. Now after ending AWS we are clear, with a date to open our pre seed round, and even better we have investors waiting! I urge any female founder to definitely take the time to apply this is a life-changing opportunity for all start-ups."

As one of 25 startups selected for the program, ChurchSpace also received credits, extensive training, mentoring and technical guidance, as well as introductions to Amazon leaders and teams, networking opportunities with potential investors, and ongoing advisory support.

“For underrepresented founders, access is power. And as Black founders with an audacious mission to eradicate high church underutilization rates, the access to capital, mentorship and tech innovation support will create tidal waves of positive impact that reach far beyond our internal operations but spread to thousands of local communities across the nation,” says Emmanuel Brown, ChurchSpace co-founder and COO.

AWS recently announced its three-year, $30 million commitment to the program. Amazon is currently looking for female founders for the next cohort that is now open with the deadline date of August 26.

MassChallenge Texas alum, ChurchSpace was founded in 2020 by two Black millennial pastors’ kids who witnessed the crippling effects that large church financial overhead placed on church leaders. The marketplace allows churches to earn extra revenue while remaining compliant with IRS nonprofit regulations. ChurchSpace is expecting to launch in 10 states with over 6,000 waitlisted users.

“I want to congratulate a truly innovative and inspiring group of startups selected from thousands of applicants for this opportunity. On behalf of the entire team, we are honored to support them on their journey,” says Howard Wright, vice president of startups at AWS.

Day Edwards is the co-founder and CEO of Church Space, which was founded in 2020. Photo courtesy of Church Space

Here's your latest roundup of innovation news you may have missed. Shobeir Ansari/Getty Images

Google grants Houston founders funds, The Ion looks for artists, and more local innovation news

short stories

The Houston innovation ecosystem is bursting at the seams with news, and for this reason, local startup and tech updates may have fallen through some of the cracks.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, the Comcast RISE program expands to grant more funds, Google names Houston-area recipients from its Black Founder Fund, The Ion is looking for artists to participate in a new initiative, and more.

Google cohort awards Black founders $100,000 each

Google has granted funds to two Houston companies. Photo via Pexels

DOSS and SOTAOG, two Houston-based startups, have received $100,000 each as a part of the second cohort of the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund, a $10 million initiative for Black founders. Originally reported to be a part of Google's accelerator early this summer, DOSS is a digital brokerage that uses tech to make homeownership more affordable, and SOTAOG is an enterprise solutions provider within the oil and gas and heavy industrial industries.

"The Google for Startups Black Founders Fund embodies our mission of helping underrepresented founders grow their businesses. We are excited to continue the fund and contribute funding to Black founders, with no strings attached. Black founders currently receive less than 1 percent of total VC funding," says Jewel Burks Solomon, head of Google for Startups US, in a news release. "We heard loud and clear from the 2020 fund recipients that Google for Startups and Goodie Nation have been crucial to their success not only through funding, but through community, mentorship, network connections and technical expertise."

Last year, Google for Startups awarded 76 Black-led startups up to $100,000 in non-dilutive funding, as well as technical support from tools and teams across Google, including as much as $120,000 in donated search Ads from Google.org and up to $100,000 in Google Cloud credits, according to the release.

In addition to the two companies from Houston, eight companies from Austin and Dallas were also chosen for the second program.

The Ion calls for local artists

The Ion is looking for local artists to create innovative window displays. Photo courtesy of The Ion

The Ion, a Midtown innovation hub that's owned and operated by Rice Management Company, is looking for local artists to work on two prominent display windows at the front of the newly renovated historic Sears building.

"As a nexus for creativity of many different kinds, The Ion welcomes Houston's talented artists to tap into their unique skill sets and diverse backgrounds to submit inventive proposals that will ultimately comprise two different art installations. Each installation will contribute to Houston's innovation ecosystem by inspiring the growing community of creators who will see the building's display windows on a daily basis," says Artistic Consultant Piper Faust in a news release.

The two art installations will reside for six months — from February to August of next year. The submissions will be evaluated by a team of experts identified by Rice Management Co. and Piper Faust. The budget for each project will be $20,000.

According to the release, the submissions are open to Houston-area artists and should be in line with The Ion's "vision and mission of accelerating innovation, connecting communities and facilitating partnerships to create growth and opportunity in Houston."

Artists can apply online until October 1 at 5 pm.

Comcast RISE announces additional $1 million for Houston founders

Comcast to dole out $1M in grants to BIPOC-owned small businesses in Houston

The Comcast RISE program will give out another batch of $10,000 grants to BIPOC-owned small businesses in Houston. Photo via Getty Images

The Comcast RISE Investment Fund, which announced funding for 100 small businesses in Houston earlier this year, has expanded to provide an additional $1 million in support. The program is focused on BIPOC-owned small businesses in Harris and Fort Bend Counties that have been in business for three or more years with 1 to 25 employees.

Eligible businesses can apply online at ComcastRISE.com beginning October 1 through October 14 for one of the one hundred $10,000 grants.

Houston startup wins $25,000

Day Edwards, founder and CEO of Church Space

Day Edwards, founder and CEO of Church Space, won $25,000 for her company. Photo courtesy of Church Space

Dallas-based Impact Ventures, a nonprofit startup accelerator focused on empowering women and communities of color, hosted its bi-annual event, The Startup Showcase. A Houston-based company, Church Space, took the top prize of $25,000.

Billed as the "Netflix of churches," Church Space originally started as a way to allow groups to rent spaces for worship. But, in light of the pandemic, the company is pivoted to launch Church Space TV, a streaming program that allows churches and ministries to stream worship services for free.

"It felt like the perfect opportunity to give churches a way to reach more people during the pandemic," Day Edwards, founder and CEO of Church Space, previously told InnovationMap. "This would create more impact than anything we could possibly offer at this time."

The company is also one of MassChallenge Texas's 2021 cohort.

Houston health care leader receives prestigious award

Dr. Peter Hotez, a leader in the development of Texas Children's and Baylor's COVID-19 vaccine construct, has been named the recipient of a prestigious award. ​Photo courtesy of TCH

Dr. Peter Hotez, Texas Children's Hospital Chair in Tropical Pediatrics, has been awarded the 2021 David E. Rogers Award. Hotez is co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital and Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

The annual award, presented by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Association of American Medical Colleges, "honors a medical school faculty member who has made major contributions to improving the health and health care of the American people," according to a news release.

"I am thrilled to be honored with the David E. Rogers Award," Hotez says in the release. "As we continue this fight against COVID-19, having the additional support from the AAMC will amplify our efforts to improve public health nationally and globally."

The award will be presented to Dr. Hotez at the 2021 AAMC Awards Recognition Event on Wednesday, October 27.

Hotez is leading the development of Texas Children's and Baylor's COVID-19 vaccine construct, according to the release, and he has dedicated much of his time to vaccine advocacy efforts, countering rising antivaccine and anti-science sentiments in the United States while promoting vaccine diplomacy efforts globally.

Houston-based Church Space is launching a new tool to help religious groups reach their congregations virtually. Photo via bookchurchspace.com

Houston organization creates the 'Netflix for churches' in light of social distancing

tune in

Places of worship were not immune from various stay-at-home orders, and many still have not resumed services. But a Houston startup is giving religious institutions an opportunity to reach their congregations — virtually.

Houston-based Church Space allows groups to rent spaces for worship and is described as "the Airbnb for churches." In light of the pandemic, the company is gearing up to launch Church Space TV, a streaming program that allows churches and ministries to stream worship services for free.

"It felt like the perfect opportunity to give churches a way to reach more people during the pandemic," says Day Edwards, founder and CEO of Church Space. "This would create more impact than anything we could possibly offer at this time."

Church Space focuses on weekly worship services to growing churches and one-time community events. The space sharing platform helps churches earn extra income while helping growing congregations by providing them with space to gather and worship.

Now with the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent stay-at-home orders, many churches have closed, with many growing ministries no longer able to reach congregations in a shared space. Church Space Tv offers churches a new solution by providing a streaming program for worshippers on Roku and Apple TV.

"The true church has no doors, and we must adapt during these uncertain times," says Edwards. "We must rely on a wildly imaginative use of technology to reach more people than ever before."

For Edwards, a second-generation church planter, the inspiration for Church Space comes from her childhood growing up watching her mother, Paster Cherry DeeDee Edwards, transform living rooms into worship rooms for new burgeoning churches.

Now, Edwards continues that legacy with the help of modern technology.

"Many churches already recognize the need to incorporate live streaming into their worship services and have experience doing so through their websites and Facebook pages," says Edwards. "Through Church Space Tv, we want to help them expand their reach beyond their current congregation, network, and community."

Church Space Tv allows churches and ministries to expand their reach with 36. 9 million Roku users and 35. 8 million Apple TV users. According to Edwards, they already have 36 hours of content and counting ready for audiences to view from churches all over the country including ministries from Florida, Atlanta, and California in their catalog.

"It brings communities together by watching with friends and family," says Edwards. "And it brings those who may have to work or those who cannot worship in person with a sense of comfort by being in their home while still feeling part of the church community while expanding their access to a more diverse catalog content from different churches."

Church Space TV is launching Sunday, May 24, on Roku and Apple TV. According to Edwards, she expects this iteration of the Church Space brand to become the "Netflix for churches."

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston startup with unique vascular innovation enrolls subjects in new trial

medical device momentum

A Houston-based company has enrolled the initial subjects in a first-of-its-kind trial.

VenoStent was created to improve vascular surgery outcomes for patients undergoing arteriovenous fistula (AVF) creation surgery.

“When a vein is connected to an artery, as in AVF creation, the vein experiences a 10x increase in pressure and flow that is traumatizing to veins. Many fail to become usable for dialysis,” Geoffrey Lucks, VenoStent COO and co-founder, says in a news release.

Enter VenoStent’s SelfWrap Bioabsorbable Perivascular Wrap, better known as simply SelfWrap. In May 2023, SelfWrap gained FDA approval to begin its US IDE Study, SAVE-FistulaS: The SelfWrap-Assisted ArterioVEnous Fistula Study.

Roughly half a million Americans need hemodialysis just to survive another day. Nearly all of those patients require a vascular access creation surgery, but the procedure has a 50-percent failure rate in its first year. VenoStent and SelfWrap are aimed at improving those odds. It works by using the body’s own healing mechanism.

SelfWrap is a flexible, bioabsorbable vascular wrap that helps to recreate the arterial environment in veins. Over time, the body replaces the SelfWrap with venous tissue.

The company has begun to enroll patients for what will eventually be a 200-subject study. Some of those people have radiocephalic fistulas, others have brachiocephalic ones. This is important, because it will likely prove that the technology works for most types of AVFs. The sites for this clinical trial are at the Surgical Specialists of Charlotte, P.A. in Charlotte, NC, and the Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeons in Austin.

“While it’s ambitious and sets a high bar for FDA Approval, we owe it to the chronic kidney disease (CKD) patient community to provide the highest level of clinical evidence,” Timothy Boire, CEO and cofounder, says in the release. “We’re confident based on years of preclinical and clinical data that we’ll demonstrate superiority to standard of care with this breakthrough technology.”

VenoStent recently completed a $16 million Series A, financed by Good Growth Capital and IAG Capital. This is the first-ever randomized controlled trial of a medical device designed to improve outcomes from arteriovenous fistula (AVF) creation surgery in the United States.

Explore the eco-friendly commuting app that's driving change at Houston area employers

Going My Way?

The Texas Department of Transportation’s Houston-based mobile app called ConnectSmart is on a mission to make the region more connected and less congested. With its ability to generate personalized travel recommendations and provide exclusive access to unique transportation tools, information and services, the app has been instrumental in helping many Houstonians experience a less stressful ride throughout the city.

While the app has already helped tens of thousands of Houstonians improve their daily travel, the program’s latest addition — the ConnectSmart Employer Commute Suite — is aimed at helping Houston-area employers increase their staff’s access to affordable and sustainable mobility options to and from work.

“As more residents throughout the Houston-Galveston region become familiar with the Houston ConnectSmart app, we encourage area employers to embrace and consider incorporating it into their commuter programs,” says Jamila Owens, travel demand manager for the Houston Galveston Area Council. “Whether a commuter is looking for the perfect transit route or coworkers for a carpool, this is one way the business community can play a significant role in improving the regional commute and greatly increase their staff’s commute options.”

The Employer Commute Suite supports businesses seeking to manage, measure, and report on the impact of commuting programs on their Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and decarbonization initiatives. The best part is that it is entirely adaptable to any company's unique culture and structure. Whether it be carpooling, utilizing public transit, or working from home, the Employer Commute Suite offers an array of commuting options from which to choose.

As an employer, you can engage your employees in your ESG initiatives and help transform their daily commutes into a more eco-friendly and cost-effective experience by becoming a Houston ConnectSmart Partner.

The app’s state-of-the-art employer carpooling feature is designed to match employees with colleagues traveling in the same direction, reducing vehicle expenses, toll costs, and fuel consumption. The carpool trips are then recorded for reporting purposes.

Employer Partners have access to the Commute Suite dashboard that is designed specifically to help companies monitor their commuting programs, including carpool matches and trips, and calculate total reduction of CO2 emissions from carpooling, biking, riding transit , and telework, for their entire team.

But that’s not all — being an Employer Partner means contributing to the reduction of traffic congestion in the Houston area.

“We specifically developed the app to help individuals from across the Greater Houston region improve their daily travel,” says ConnectSmart’s Program Manager Brenda Bustillos. “We’ve worked closely with H-GAC and local employers alike to design a program and one-stop mobility app that increases employees’ travel options to work while reducing the cost and stress of daily commuting. By helping employers achieve their corporate goals, we can simultaneously reach our objectives of improving the Greater Houston region’s air quality, decrease congestion, and ultimately improve safety on these same roadways.”

The ConnectSmart Employer Commute Suite is a valuable resource in helping businesses transition toward a more sustainable future.

Become an Employer Partner today and see how the ConnectSmart Employer Commute Suite can help your organization and support your ESG goals.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every Monday, I'm introducing you to three Houston innovators to know — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Atul Varadhachary, managing director of Fannin Innovation

Atul Varadhachary of Fannin joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Commercializing a life science innovation that has the potential to enhance or even save the lives of millions of patients is a marathon, not a sprint. That's how Atul Varadhachary thinks of it, and he's leading an organization that's actively running that race for several different early-stage innovations.

For over a decade, Fannin has worked diligently to develop promising life science innovations — that start as just an idea or research subject — by garnering grant funding and using its team of expert product developers to build out the technology or treatment. The model is different from what you'd see at an accelerator or incubator, and it also varies from the path taken by an academic or research institution.

The life science innovation timeline is very different from a software startup's, which can get to an early prototype in less than a year.

"In biotech, to get to that minimally viable product, it can take a decade and tens of millions of dollars," Varadhachary, managing director at Fannin, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Read more.

Natasha Gorodetsky, founder and CEO of Product Pursuits

A product management expert shares how artificial intelligence is affecting the process for the tech and startup worlds. Photo via LinkedIn

For over a year, the tech and business community has been obsessing over artificial intelligence. As Natasha Gorodetsky, the Houston-based founder and CEO of Product Pursuits, writes in a guest column about how the product management community is not an exception.

"Product managers — as well as startup founders leading a product function — more than any other role, face a challenge of bringing new life-changing products to market that may or may not be received well by their users," she writes. "A product manager’s goal is complex — bring value, stay ahead of the competition, be innovative. Yet, the "behind the scenes" grind requires endless decision making and trade offs to inspire stakeholders to move forward and deliver."

She continues in her article to outline the trends of AI for product management. Read more.

Jay Hartenbach, COO of Diakonos Oncology

A Houston company with a promising immuno-oncology is one step closer to delivering its cancer-fighting drug to patients who need it. Photo via Diakonos

Diakonos Oncology has recently made major headway with the FDA, including both a fast track and an orphan drug designation. It will soon start a phase 2 trial of its promising cancer fighting innovation.

The therapy catalyzes a natural immune response, it’s the patient’s own body that’s fighting the cancer. Hartenbach credits Decker with the idea of educating dendritic cells to attack cancer, in this case, glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), one of the most aggressive cancers with which doctors and patients are forced to tangle.

“Our bodies are already very good at responding very quickly and aggressively to what it perceives as virally infected cells. And so what Dr. Decker did was basically trick the immune system by infecting these dendritic cells with the cancer specific protein and mRNA,” details COO Jay Hartenbach. Read more.