Mayor Sylvester Turner recently kicked off the City of Houston’s 2021 Liftoff Houston Startup Business Plan Competition (Liftoff Houston), sponsored by Capital One Bank and administered by the Houston Public Library (HPL) and the Office of Business Opportunity (OBO).
Liftoff Houston aims to empower Houstonians to start their own businesses through a series of workshops and coaching sessions that take place from August through October. Winners in three categories – Service, Product, and Innovation – will each receive $10,000 in seed money from Capital One Bank. Applications are open from July 7 through Monday, Aug. 2.
“I am excited to see what business ideas and concepts this year’s contestants will bring to the table,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “We are grateful for Capital One Bank’s commitment to helping Houstonians make their small business dreams come true. I encourage all aspiring entrepreneurs not to miss out on this wonderful opportunity that will help move our economy and city forward.”
Since its inception, more 12,623 Houstonians have participated in Liftoff Houston, and more than $240,000 in prize money has been awarded by Capital One Bank.
“Startup businesses play a critical role in our City’s economic future,” said Houston Public Library Director Dr. Rhea Lawson. “The Houston Public Library is pleased to support their development by providing access to free and vital business and investment reference resources, market research, state of the art technology equipment with high-speed Wi-Fi, and other valuable services such as fax and copy services and space for meetings and trainings.”
Topics covered during the competition include business plan basics, raising capital, marketing, and information about free City of Houston business resources. Participants will also develop a business plan, which will be reviewed by mentors from Capital One Bank and SCORE Houston.
At the end of the competition, nine finalists will be selected to present their business plans to a panel of judges on Pitch Day, which is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 6. One winner and a fan favorite from each category will be selected.
To qualify as a contestant for Liftoff Houston, applicants must live and operate their business within the Houston city limits. The business should be for-profit, in operation for less than one year, and have verifiable revenue that does not exceed $10,000. Past winners have included businesses in retail, merchandise, labor, consulting, software, hardware, market businesses, hospitality, tourism, health and fitness, education, finance, technology and logistics.
Those who do not qualify to compete in the competition, or those who do not wish to compete can also apply to participate in the Liftoff Houston Educational Pathway, which offers access to all the business education opportunities provided by the program, but without the pitching component.
“Liftoff Houston will provide you with a wealth of knowledge and information about how to successfully start your business, and the Office of Business Opportunity is also available to assist,” said Office of Business Opportunity Director Marsha Murray. “I encourage contestants to connect with us for a host of free resources at our ‘one stop business center’ where you can receive guidance on business permitting, licenses, one-on-one business counseling, legal assistance and much more. These services can certainly supplement the learnings offered by Liftoff Houston, and assist contestants on their entrepreneurship journeys.”
Notable Liftoff Houston alumni, whose businesses have grown beyond the entrepreneurial phase, include 2016 winners Lyndsey Brantley of Camellia Alise and Kiley Summers of SpenDebt, 2017 winner Megan Eddings of Accel Lifestyle, and 2018 winner Jenna Zhang of Olympus Watches.
With the onset of the COVID-19, all aspects of last year’s competition were held virtually for the first time, including Pitch Day. 2020 winners – Kimberly Jones of Cosmetic Concierge Nurses, Jerome Vielman of Kairos Chemical, and Wendell Matthews of Goat + Bear – have since utilized their prize money to help with marketing and operational costs to build resilient businesses that can thrive past the pandemic.
In 2021, Liftoff Houston will be offered in a hybrid format, with all workshops and mentoring sessions presented virtually, and with in-person components for Pitch Day.