Ralph Sampson: Former Rocket promotes entrepreneurship

HOUSTON, TEXAS - MAY 02: Ralph Sampson welcomes contestants and guests to the Ralph Sampson, PUMA, SeventySix Capital To Host Pitchfest For Houston Startups, Award $20K To Winning Entrepreneur at WeWork Houston on May 02, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images for PUMA)

Ralph Sampson, the 7-foot-4 charter member of the original Twin Towers, was back in familiar territory recently. Sampson, the No. 1 pick in the 1983 NBA draft chosen by the Houston Rockets, returned home to present his latest project that promotes entrepreneurship. 

The event, titled Pitchfest, is a joint project between Puma and venture capital platform SeventySix Capital. Sampson is a Puma brand ambassador. The Ralph Sampson Pitchfest is a contest that gives Houston-area entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch innovative business and philanthropic ideas (for-profit and not-for-profit) related to sports, technology and community to a panel of judges. At stake is a prize of $20,000 in start-up funding.

“In today’s market you have a lot of young people who have ideas of becoming entrepreneurs,” Sampson said. “They want to build something special, but they don’t have vehicles to get money or capital or networking opportunities to make things happen. Pitchfest is a creative way to help these business people get the help they need.    

“All of these companies bring ideas that highlight the use of innovative technology,” he said. “This is the first of its kind opportunity where a shoe company and a venture capitalist group can interface and network with them. It’s our hopes that we can do it in multiple cities, but Houston is first.”

Sampson explained how Houston became the site of the inaugural Pitchfest.

“Houston is where it all started for me,” he said. “Getting drafted here and being the number one pick in 1983 was very special. I just decided we had to start things off in Houston. The moment I got off the plane and got that first little breathe of humidity, I said I’m home. My son lives here now, so Houston is just a great place to be.    

“I haven’t been real flamboyant with a lot of the projects I’ve been involved in,” Sampson said. “With the market the way it is, now there’s an opportunity to do some additional things that benefit the community.

“I’m really excited by the possibilities based on our turnout here tonight. If we stay focused on what I call the MAP program – self-Motivated, great Attitude and have a Plan, we can collectively do big things.”     

Pitchfest also gives Sampson the opportunity to reconnect with the shoe company that he represented throughout his playing career, Puma.

Forty companies pitched their ideas and the final six made their presentations in downtown Houston.  The judging panel included: Sampson; Matthew Growney, head of Special Projects at PUMA and managing partner of Fabulous Brands; Chad Stender, managing director of SeventySix Capital; and Kiotti Brown, 97.9 The Box. First-, second- and third-place winners were awarded $20,000, $10,000 and $5,000 respectively.  

When the dust settled Houston native Mike Brown, CEO of Win-Win, walked away with first place. His start-up combines giving with gaming by having professional athletes host fantasy sports style tournaments where donors compete to win prizes and experiences. 

An athlete chooses a featured charitable cause so that as fans enter the tournament, they can make voluntary, tax-deducible donations of any amount. To incentivize user transaction, fans earn perks and advantages, including virtual currency, based on their donation amount. Win-Win retains a percentage of every donation transaction that happens on the platform and brand partners pay for customized