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New fund emerges to aid Houstonians in need amid coronavirus crisis

A new fund will pump more than $1 million into local organizations set to help those in need. Photo courtesy of Greater Houston Recovery Fund

Two Houston nonprofits have joined forces for the betterment of struggling Houstonians during the coronavirus pandemic.

As the jobless rate in America soars to 3.28 million and some 800,000 Texans slam the Texas Workforce Commission's lines, United Way of Greater Houston and the Greater Houston Community Foundation have teamed up to establish the Greater Houston COVID-19 Recovery Fund to help those in critical need. All money raised will be used to help with immediate basic needs, according to a press release.

The Houston Endowment is making a lead gift of $1 million to the fund and pledged an additional challenge gift of $1 million, which will match $1 for every $4 dollars raised. Additional leading Houston organizations who have pledged gifts to the fund include: JP Morgan Chase - $100,000; Houston Texans Foundation - $100,000, and Wells Fargo Foundation - $150,000.

"Nearly half of the households in our Greater Houston area struggle daily to make ends meet and the sudden loss of work, wages and child care can be a devastating financial hardship," says Anna M. Babin, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Houston. "Our primary goal is to make sure the most vulnerable in our community affected by COVID-19 have access to food, health care, shelter and other basic necessities to sustain them in this crisis."

These monies will be funneled to services provided by trusted nonprofit partners who have proven experience and the systems in place to serve the community in times of disaster; citizens in need can then approach said agencies directly, according to a spokesperson for the United Way.

For more assistance, Houstonians can call 2-1-1, which provides the most updated information on assistance with utilities, housing or rental assistance, crisis counseling, access to senior services, and information on food pantries in the community.

The recovery fund has been endorsed by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. It is co-chaired by Jamey Rootes, board chair, United Way of Greater Houston and president of the Houston Texans; and by Tony Chase, board member, Greater Houston Community Foundation and chairman and CEO of ChaseSource, LP.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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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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