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Lisa Carrico

Applications are now open for the Liftoff Houston Startup Business Plan Competition, where three winners will each receive $10,000 in seed money to fund their dreams of entrepreneurship. Applications must be received by 2 p.m. on Friday, August 19.  

The competition, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, is sponsored by Capital One Bank and administered by the Houston Public Library (HPL) and the Office of Business Opportunity (OBO). Since its inception, Capital One has invested more than $280,000 in startup funding to winners in three categories – Innovation, Product and Service. 

“For 10 years, Liftoff Houston has empowered participants to achieve financial mobility through entrepreneurship,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “They have become key drivers to the success of Houston’s economy, and they have contributed to our communities by creating jobs and by providing much-needed goods and services.”

Mayor Sylvester Turner, joined by HPL Deputy Director Nicole Robinson, Capital One Bank Market President Yasmin Huebinger, and OBO Director Marsha Murray, recognized Liftoff Houston alumni who have grown their businesses past the startup phase: 2019 Service Category winner Sherhara Downing of SpeakHaus and business partner Christa Clarke, 2016 Service Category winner Jennifer Thai of Awesome Bites Co., and 2018 Innovation Category winner Alphonso Roundtree of Social Bevy.

To be eligible for the competition, applicants must live and operate their businesses within the city limits of Houston. The business should be for-profit, in operation for less than one year, and have verifiable revenue that does not exceed $10,000. Those who are not eligible to compete can participate in the Educational Pathway, which allows access to all educational and mentorship components of the program. 

Upon acceptance into Liftoff Houston, participants attend workshops over a 4-month period that cover essential business topics including business planning, marketing, financing and pitching. Participants also receive additional support by professional mentors from SCORE Houston and Capital One Bank to further refine their business plans, which are required to advance to the final round of the competition. The event culminates to Pitch Day on November 5, where three businesses in each contest category are selected to present their business plan to a panel of judges. All who fulfill requirements of the Educational Pathway receive a certificate of completion. 

“This year’s milestone competition will prove to be another exciting year of opportunity for Houstonians who are ready to move their plans of business ownership forward,” said HPL Director Dr. Rhea Brown Lawson. “We are pleased to join OBO, Capital One and a host of other partners in supporting their development and dreams through the provision of free library services and access to business and investment reference resources, state-of-the-art technology, and high-speed Wi-Fi.”

Since its inception, more than 15,000 individuals have participated in Liftoff Houston. Of all competition finalists, 27 winners have started businesses in retail, merchandise, labor, consulting, software, hardware, market businesses, hospitality, tourism, health and fitness, education, finance, technology, and logistics. 

Data collected from the 2021 competition showed Liftoff Houston made an impact in populations that have been historically marginalized. Of all participants, 96% identified as people of color, 70% were female, 56% had no college degree, and 41% made below $30,000. 

In 2021, all winners were women:

•    Alina Kravchenko of TonerBum (Innovation), a patented glute and leg-toning dumbbell ergonomically designed to fit behind the back of the leg; 
•    Krystle Hodge of SafetyKay, LLC (Product), comprising safety kits and videos that teach children critical safety skills; and 
•    Clara Orlean of ClaraTech (Service), in-person technology training that assists older adults with technology consulting sessions and workshops.  

“As we celebrate a decade of Liftoff Houston, we look forward to making an even greater impact for Houston’s aspiring entrepreneurs,” said OBO Director Marsha Murray. “This competition will provide you with a clear roadmap to help you achieve your goals of succeeding as a small business owner.”

To apply for Liftoff Houston, go to You can follow @liftoffhouston on Facebook and Instagram.

July 30, 2022 – October 22, 2022 

The African American Library at the Gregory School

1300 Victor Street, 77019 | 832-393-1440


Fourth Ward, Motherward, an exhibit of photographs by Elbert Howze, is on view at the African American Library at the Gregory School from July 30 to October 8, 2022.

Elbert Howze (1951 – 2015) was born in Detroit, Michigan. He moved to Houston in 1973 and continued his education at the University of Houston, receiving a B.F.A. in fine art, a B.S. in technology and business technology, and an M.F.A. in photography.

Freedmen’s Town, Fourth Ward was founded by newly freed African Americans in 1865 and quickly grew into a successful, bustling, and self-sufficient community. By the middle of the 20th century, the landlocked neighborhood saw its population decline as residents moved to other Black communities around the city. Neglect, government redevelopment programs, private developers, and the relentless march toward gentrification led to the demolition of historic homes.

When Howze took an interest in the community in the 1980s, he described Fourth Ward as “a place of neglect and decay which appears to be deliberate by plan.” Although he acknowledged the physical decline of the area, Howze decided to focus his lens on its residents, preserving the enduring spirit of the neighborhood.

This exhibit is free and open to the public. Exhibit dates are subject to change.

Field is required.