Palo Alto-based Founder Institute is launching its Houston program at Station Houston. Image courtesy Founder Institute

Silicon Valley-based Founder Institute has announced its second Texas program in Houston, which will operate out of Station Houston. Founder Institute Houston applications for the inaugural cohort close May 19.

The early stage accelerator focuses on advancing startup companies in the pre-funding phase.

"It's quite different from any other program in Houston currently," says Neal Murthy, director of Founder Institute Houston. "It's an accelerator, but it's an idea-stage accelerator."

Before Founder Institute, Houston's only early stage opportunities were tied to universities — like the University of Houston's Red Labs or Rice University's Owl Spark — and those are typically focused on the university's community and on education, Murthy says.

In anticipation of launch, Founder Institute Houston will host a series of free entrepreneurial events, with the first one being March 19.

The Houston chapter will be ran by three directors: Murthy, a UH lecturer and angel investor, James Phelan, innovation expert with a real estate background, and Tabbie Saenz, Alice community leader and Baker Ripley mentor. Martin Martinez, managing director of Founder Institute Texas, who launched the Austin program, will also join the team.

"What's nice about our team is because we were already colleagues and friends prior to coming together on this project, we already have rapor, we can communicate, and we know each other's working styles, strengths, and weaknesses," says Phelan.

Founded in 2009 by Adeo Ressi and Jonathan Greechan, Founder Institute has chapters in 180 cities in 65 countries. They've contributed to 3,500 companies that have now raised over $800 million.

"Houston's supportive startup community and its affordable living costs have inspired a lot of entrepreneurial enthusiasm in the city. Every year, more co-working spaces and incubators move to Houston and it's now easier to launch a startup here than ever before. We aim to help that trend," Ressi says in a release. "I believe that our structured accelerator program will give potential founders the guidance they need to launch successful technology companies in Houston."

Every chapter focuses on the same idea-stage type of company and selects around 30 companies to participate in a 14-week course of education, mentorship, and business development. The cohort spends around three hours a week in educational programming, but then is expected to spend 20 to 25 hours a week working assignments and business development. It's designed to be tough. Usually, only around 10 founders of the 30 will cross the finish line.

"If they can't handle this course, then there's no way they're going to be a successful founder because this course is a breeze compared to running a company," says Phalen.

The Founder Institute alumni network is huge, and is one of the program's biggest perks. Not only do participants get access to a network successful founders, but they also usually have a foot in the door at the next stage of competitive accelerator programs.

"That's an enormously valuable thing from a fundraising aspect if you have the support from another successful founder standing next to you, vouching for you," Phelan says.

Another thing that makes Founder Institute different is, rather than operating off an equity approach, Founder Institute and its local directors receive warrants from each participating company. And, fellow founders and even program mentors receive a cut too.

"The sharing of that [means] everyone has economic incentives and it encourages collaboration among the cohort itself," Murthy says.

Founder Institute's expansion plan for Texas doesn't end at Austin and Houston. Two other locations in Dallas and San Antonio are also in route to the Lone Star State. However, Houston's a bit different of a city to be in, with it's diversity and large size.

"We are going to be targeting a very diverse community as well. We want to have everyone who hasn't had a chance to access resources like this," Saenz says.

Murthy, who has been a mentor for the Founder Institute in Austin, says it's so remarkable to see how much these founders accomplish in the 14 weeks, and he can't wait to see that affect the Houston ecosystem.

"We think that Houston needs a number of new elements to fill out its ecosystem, and this is one of them — an idea-stage accelerator," Murthy says. "We've seen the success it's had in Austin and globally, and we're hoping to bring that to Houston."

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New innovative dining club connects Houston young professionals to deals

Join the club

Houstonians love to dine out. And they love being part of something, especially if it's something that gives them something. Houstonians, meet EaterPass.

It's the brainchild of Courtney Steinfeld, who describes it as "a hip, fun, local membership community." While her target audience is millennial young women, ages 24-34, membership is open to all. For an $8 monthly fee, EaterPass members get "Insider Pricing" at a host of participating restaurants, which translates to 20 percent off the total bill, including drinks.

"The Insider Pricing is available any time with the exception of happy hour or special events," said Steinfeld. "And we also offer Insider Perks. These are time-specific perks with even more value than 20 percent off. The best part is, members can choose Insider Pricing or Perks.

Some of the current perks include EaterPass members receiving happy hour pricing on drinks any time they visit the Original Ninfa's Uptown, or getting $5 pricing on a Field and Tides burger, a dozen oysters, draft beer or house Champagne at Field and Tides.

EaterPass is a month-to-month membership, and Steinfeld estimates that if members spend $40 at a partner restaurant, the membership essentially pays for itself.

She's curated a list of some of Houston's top restaurants, including BCK Kitchen, Blackbird Izakaya, Brennan's Houston, Bungalow Heights, Field & Tides, Helen Greek Heights, Helen Greek Rice Village, Kanaloa, Moxie's, the Original Ninfa's Uptown, On the Kirb, Poitin, Sweet Paris Highland Village, Shun, Tikila's, and Wicklow Heights. Also new to the mix are 8th Wonder Brewery, 8th Wonder Distillery, and La Grange.

Those who want to join can pay their membership fee online and get instructions on how to download the electronic membership card, which they show when they dine at participating restaurants.

"Our Partner list serves as an easy go-to guide," said Steinfeld. "So, we have to be choosy about who we invite in. My focus has been to grow the bar segment with recent additions such as Tikila's and La Grange, which will be available in early March. Now I am shifting back to expanding our food offerings. Barbecue and Italian options are my next focus."

Occasionally, Steinfeld says, EaterPass will host meetups at its partner restaurants, but the majority of the community's social engagement happens on Instagram.

"Members can find our latest news posted via our Instagram Stories," said Steinfeld, who also uses the platform for share news with members about announcements, gift card giveaways, and member features and tips.

Steinfeld has been passionate about growing the business and ensuring good food and drink fits for her clients.

She's also got a special one-month free deal for CultureMap readers. Use code VIP20 to sign up.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houstonians rev engines and fulfill fantasies at private racetrack

In the Driver's Seat

An enthusiastic crowd packed Life HTX event center on February 20 to celebrate a new era for Motor Speedway Resort (MSR), the 383-acre private racetrack for motor enthusiasts.

Ever wanted to drive a car with no speed limit, or find a safe, secure garage for your exotic vehicle? How about just have a second-home escape where you can connect with other motor enthusiasts? MSR, located 35 minutes from downtown Houston, is a rare personal playground that combines fantasy, freedom, and play.

At the event, the buzz was palpable. Developers Fabio Covarrubias and Gabriel Haddad announced an exciting new vision to add luxury garage villas, car showrooms, a new health spa, and high-end garages.

Guests browsed dozens of exotic cars, including the only Tramontana supercar in America. Also featured were several Ducati bikes, Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and more. Master of ceremonies John Granato, a radio show host on ESPN 97.5FM, fired up guests with a description and pictures of MSR's exciting future.

"For over 14 years, MSR has been a James Bond fantasyland, uniting motorsport enthusiasts," he said. "It was created as a place where you can drive as fast as you want, laws — and common sense — be damned. It's an exciting destination to bring your dream car for a spin."

And the new plans stirred the fervor. The development includes 800 luxury garages, 10 showrooms, and 245 single-family lots. Granato announced that the first showroom "will be signed today by Carlos Lascale from V1 Moto Ducati."

And motor enthusiasts need not leave their families behind, as the plans will include a state-of-the-art spa with a beautiful pool, workout center, and health treatments.

MSR is a dream for motorists of all types. The track welcomes amateurs who race for fun, professionals who use the track for training, collectors who like a place to show off their cars, and families that can use the facilities to practice and play together.

Just as we know many communities built around golf courses, MSR will become the ultimate community for motor enthusiasts.

A glimpse at the luxury garage villa's interior. Rendering courtesy of Motor Speedway Resort