It’s not every day you get the chance to win big for your budding start-up business as a solo entrepreneur, but on November 5, three individuals took home $10,000 each in seed-funding for their business, after competing in the Liftoff Houston Start-up Business Plan Competition.
Now in its 10th year, the annual entrepreneurial initiative was created to boost minority-owned small businesses while equipping owners with business literacy education, and mentorship. This year the competition received a record number of 160 applicants that applied to three categories: service (food, labor, and consulting), product (retail, resale, and merchandise), and innovation (software, hardware, inventions, and “new market” businesses).
To advance in the competition, all participants attended nearly four months of required workshops ranging from business plan basics to raising capital. They also met with financial mentors for additional support and submitted business plans which were reviewed and judged by representatives from Capital One Bank and SCORE Houston.
After months of hard work, the grand prize for each category was awarded: Dr. Natasha Roberts Jnofinn of ActIVate Drip Spa won under the service category, Hannah Le’s RE.STATEMENT won under product, and Aditya Aggarwal’s Maritime XR start-up won under innovation.
Data collected from the 2021 competition showed that the program had made an impact on historically marginalized communities, with 96 percent of participants identifying as people of color and 70 percent were female. This year’s competition saw similar results, as all the finalists were one of the latter.
Recipient Le, says if she didn’t grow up in a working-class Vietnamese family she wouldn’t have been exposed to upcycling, which is the ethos of her grand prize-winning brand, RE.STATEMENT– the marketplace which takes used or unwanted clothing and makes them new.
“Looking back it really helped me mold my story and mold my business model,” Le said, who started her company in February. “Each person’s experience is so unique and individual that so many stories and creations can be made from [them].”
Like the other recipients, the 24-year-old is grateful to be one of the many winners of the funding and appreciates all the support, expressing that the program made her feel like a very valuable part of the Houston community.
As for Indian-American CEO and founder of Maritime XR, Aggarwal, the program was extremely helpful as it pushed him and other participants to ask the tough questions.
“The business plan developing process gave us a very structured way of addressing issues,” says Aggarwal. “Trying to pitch a whole business idea in three to four minutes is not that straightforward, but now, looking back it [made] sense because if you can’t get your message across within four minutes then you’re probably overthinking it.”
Participants of the competition were also able to leverage free business resources from the Houston Public Library and the Office of Business Opportunity to complete market research, develop marketing strategies, and create viable business plans.
Dr. Jnofinn, the owner of ActIVate Drip Spa, says she can finally breathe after her big win. “It was a long process, it was vigorous, but it was worth it,” the Caribbean-American business owner said. In addition to winning in her category, both, Dr. Jnoffin and Aggarwal were named fan favorites in their categories and took home an additional $500.
Jnoffin’s spa, ActIVate Drip, provides medical-grade IV Drip formulas that work to eliminate unwanted toxins. She started her business in honor of her one-year-old son, who struggles with glycogen storage disease type-10, and requires IV hydration treatments himself. She hopes this win allows her to scale her business as well as grant her and others more opportunities in the future.
“Hopefully this opens doors for other minorities knowing that if I can do it, they can too,” Jnoffin said.
To learn more about the Liftoff Houston Start-up Business Plan Competition, visit their website.