A new-to-Houston global accelerator program just concluded its inaugural cohort, naming three top startups and providing a platform for an unexpected prize — an investment.
MassChallenge Texas didn't originally intend to have monetary prizes for this first program, however, thanks to Houston Angel Network, one lucky startup is walking away from the program $40,000 richer.
HAN, one of Houston's oldest and most active group of angel investors, saw pitch decks from most of the companies in the cohort and then invited seven companies to pitch: Ask DOSS, Celise, DoBrain, NeuroRescue, Noleus Technologies, Sensytec, and Swoovy.
At the September 5 startup showcase event, HAN named Houston-based Sensytec as the winner of the $40,000 investment prize.
The night's other big winners were MassChallenge's top three startups, program: NeuroRescue, Noleus Technologies, and Sensytec, which were selected from the top six startups that were announced a couple weeks in advance.
HAN engaged with the MassChallenge group in a few ways — like mentorship or presenting — but managing director Stephanie Campbell says she knew she wanted to discuss investment opportunities from the very beginning.
"I just think it's really important that when a new group like MassChallenge or any other accelerator come into town that we find ways to fold them into our community and help them be successful," she tells InnovationMap.
All of this year's cohort will receive 18 months of free coworking space — six months at MassChallenge, six months at The Cannon, and six months at Station Houston — and the top three startups will receive automatic entry into another MassChallenge cohort. Because no one won a cash prize from MassChallenge directly, all of the startups are eligible to reapply for another program.
"We wanted to make sure that the companies that went through the shortened version of the program this year have the ability to apply next year to any other program," MassChallenge Texas' Houston managing director, Jon Nordby, says.
Next time around, MassChallenge Texas will likely have a longer program with money on the table. That money would be provided by the organization's corporate partners. The city of Houston has put forth $2.5 million to be dealt out over five years, and Houston-based Reliant Energy has become a central partner to MassChallenge.
"We believe in supporting organizations that are pushing the boundaries and really making an impact in the community as well as the economy and the industry," says Elizabeth Killinger, president at NRG Retail and Reliant.
Killinger says next year she expects Reliant to be just as if not more involved with the process. Campbell too says HAN is interested in continuing its work with MassChallenge, and even sees it setting an example for other angel investors to get involved too.
"We're just planting the seed for the next cohort," Campbell says.