HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 33

Online camp and programming marketplace pivots amid pandemic to help Houston parents

Tudor Palaghita has advanced his startup, Camppedia, so that parents can have virtual and in-person activities for their kids this summer. Photo courtesy of Camppedia

This summer was supposed to be Houston-based Camppedia's breakout moment — a chance for CEO and Founder Tudor Palaghita to prove the company's value to its users. Palaghita is still getting to provide a much needed service to parents looking to enroll their children into enriching summer programs, but in a much different capacity thanks to COVID-19.

Camppedia — which Palaghita founded with his sister, Ana, in late 2018 — is an online marketplace that acts as a one-stop shop for parents looking for and managing local programming and activities for their kids. As the pandemic began to derail after school activities and summer plans, Palaghita quickly pivoted to provide essential needs like virtual offerings and connecting community members with new resources.

"If anything, the pandemic forced us to move a lot of things forward," Palaghita says about some of the key implementations he's made to the site. "The focus on the community was also something coming earlier than planned, but it was the most wonderful thing to come out of this. It really feels like everybody came together to give and to help each other."

Camppedia's business model is to give local camp and program providers — mostly small businesses, Palaghita says — a place to seamlessly reach parents. Now, these providers need Camppedia's platform more than ever as parents seek options a as they return to work or continue to look for at-home entertainment for their kids.

In order to better inform providers with what parents are looking for, Palaghita created a survey for parents to express what their concerns are, including when they are ready for in-person camps, what kind of safety measures they want to see, what are their thoughts on virtual programs are, and more.

"We're helping the community understand what parents think so that we can provide the best avenues and information and so providers can tune their programs to meet those needs," Palaghita says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Palaghita shares how he's managed throughout the pandemic and his plans for growing Camppedia throughout these challenges. Listen to the full interview with Palaghita below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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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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