The Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation has announced the finalists for its second annual StartUp Texas Pitch Summit, scheduled for Feb. 26.
The seed-fund program is part of the organization’s “ongoing efforts to cultivate a culture and ecosystem of entrepreneurship in Brownsville and the greater Rio Grande Valley,” according to BCIC.
“Our goal is to foster scalable business in our region and provide entrepreneurs in our community the chance to access capital and commercialize their products or services here at home,” said Nathan Burkhart, BCIC director of marketing and small business development.
The pitch competition allows finalists to showcase their businesses before a judging panel made up of industry leaders and investors, who provide feedback and choose the winners, each of whom will receive a share of $100,000 toward growing their operations. A pre-qualifying round took place Feb. 5 among 14 candidates picked from 25 initial applicants to the program, according to BCIC Executive Director Josh Mejia.
“The talent pool for this program keeps getting better and better,” he said. “We are part of a growing community of entrepreneurs and innovators, and the final panel of judges will face a difficult task in narrowing down the winners. … The quality of our finalists from both 2020 and 2021 showcases the diversity of our local economy with ventures ranging in new-space technologies, food manufacturing, communications and more, all seeking to commercialize and scale in Brownsville.”
The 2021 pitch summit finalists are Amor y Pan, a bakery specializing in keto, paleo and vegan baked goods; AMYCO, a wireless communication infrastructure and next-generation wireless technology firm; cilantro sauce manufacturer Cilantro Sauce; North American SECNER Holdings LLC, a surface electromagnetic inspection technology company; home-brewing venture Pluton Brewing Company; Raw Xocolat, a family-owned “bean to bar” chocolate factory; and Solar Kitchen LLC, which researches, develops and manufactures solar-powered cooking equipment.
Burkhart said more than 80 percent of entrepreneurs lack access to bank loans or venture capital at the time they start their businesses, though the vitality of a community’s economic depends on how much the community supports its entrepreneurs. StartUp Texas and BCIC’s EBridge Center for Business and Commercialization, to be housed in the former La Casa del Nylon building at 1304 E. Adams St., are focused on “eliminating barriers to growth and helping early stage start-ups turn their dreams into reality,” he said.
Since its inception in 2019, StartUp Texas has evolved from just a seed-fund program for small entrepreneurs to an expansion of pandemic relief aid in the form of grants and forgivable loans. Today the program encompasses the Brownsville CARES Grant, Emergency/Bridge Loan and (RE)Open for Business Forgivable Loan as well as the pitch summit — all funded and administered by BCIC.
“We have limited funding, and as such must remain as innovative as possible with our programs, resources and incentives,” says Nathan Burkhart. “We’ve seen success from every facet of the StartUp Texas program, and are excited to be investing in more homegrown organizations changing the way the world operates with this second round of our Pitch Summit.”
The pitch summit was meant to coincide with Charro Days holiday and Brownsville’s Crossroads festival, inaugurated last year, but pandemic precautions have forced it online both years. The Feb. 26 pitch summit will be live streamed from the George A. Ramirez (Brownsville) Performing Arts Academy online through BCIC’s social media channels and website. Again this year, BCIC encourages the public to weigh in via social media to select the Community Choice award for 2021.