Houston’s 11th Annual Liftoff Startup Business Plan Competition Crowns Three Winners

Houston’s 11th Annual Liftoff Startup Business Plan Competition Crowns Three Winners

In a showcase of entrepreneurial talent, the City of Houston recently concluded its 11th Annual Liftoff Houston Startup Business Plan Competition, awarding $10,000 in seed money to three promising startups. The competition featured nine finalists selected from a pool of over 100 applicants who presented their business ideas on Liftoff’s Pitch Day held on November 18, 2023, across three categories: Service, Product, and Innovation.

The 2023 Winners:

  1. Teria Johnson – Charleston Kitchen: Specializing in sweet and savory pies inspired by the Gullah Geechee culture, Charleston Kitchen, currently operating as an e-commerce company, plans to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
  2. Zoey Barker and Mohammadmehdi Mortazavi – ExoBraced: Creators of ExoBak, a non-powered exoskeleton called ExoBak designed to assist manual workers in preventing lower back injuries and pain, ultimately reducing injury rates and related business expenses.
  3. Giovanni Garza – Classic Borrego Retail: Dedicated to offering high-quality, handcrafted artisanal cowboy boots, Classic Borrego Retail plans to expand its presence with the opening of a brick-and-mortar store in Houston.

Runners-up Awarded $500 Each:

  1. Francesca Bonaduce De Nigris – Intrecci by Francesca: Collaborating with artisans worldwide, Intrecci by Francesca delivers unique handmade rugs, including antique, vintage, and contemporary pieces.
  2. Diana Tudela and Hailee Trombley – The Goodest Goodbye: Redefining pet aftercare through environmentally conscious water cremation and heartfelt farewell services for pet owners.
  3. Diane Nguyen – Flourishing Nexus LLC: Aiming to develop a dynamic virtual platform uniting health professionals worldwide, fostering collaboration, and elevating the standard of patient care.

Fan Favorites:

Classic Borrego, The Goodest Goodbye, and Flourishing Nexus secured the Fan Favorite title and a cash prize of $500 each based on community votes.

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Liftoff Houston’s Impact:

“The program is especially significant as data collected from recent competitions shows Liftoff Houston made an impact on populations that have been historically marginalized.”

Judges for 2023:

The expert panel of judges included representatives from LiftFund, Chamber of Latin Entrepreneurs of Houston, PeopleFund, America’s Small Business Development Center, The Kyra Company, HCC Center for Entrepreneurship, SpenDebt, ImpactHub Houston, and The Business Team.

Sponsorship and Impact:

The annual Liftoff Houston competition is sponsored by Capital One Bank and administered by the Houston Public Library (HPL) and the Office of Business Opportunity (OBO). Capital One Bank has contributed over $330,000 in prizes for aspiring entrepreneurs since Liftoff Houston’s inception.

Legacy of Success:

Over the past 11 years, 33 winners from the Liftoff Houston competition have successfully started businesses spanning retail, merchandise, consulting, software, hardware, hospitality, health and wellness, education, finance, technology, and logistics.

Commitment to Entrepreneurship:

“The Houston Public Library (HPL) wishes all the finalists the very best. Liftoff Houston continues to be an outstanding program that is helping people from all over the city realize their goal of starting their own business,” said HPL Director Dr. Rhea Lawson.

Acknowledging Partnerships:

“Liftoff Houston – and our finalists – have also made it this far because of our workshop partners, all who have given us the invaluable gift of their time,” said OBO Director Marsha Murray, highlighting the collaborative effort in providing business education and support.

All participants completed nearly four months of required workshops, met with mentors, and submitted business plans, which were reviewed and judged by representatives from SCORE Houston. The competition also featured the Educational Pathway, extending business education opportunities to all interested individuals, including those not ready to compete or who did not meet eligibility requirements.

For more information about Liftoff Houston, go to www.liftoff-houston.com.