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2018 Liftoff Houston Business Plan Competition

Watch these finalist videos and then vote for your fan favorite today!


Service Category Finalists
Product Category Finalists
Innovation Category Finalists


2018 Winner Bios

2018 Judges

John Reale, Station Houston

John S. Reale, Jr. (JR) is the Co-founder and CEO of Station Houston, Inc., (Station), Houston’s hub for tech innovation and entrepreneurship. JR also serves on the Board of Houston Exponential, a convening organization formed to grow Houston’s innovation economy. Before its formation, JR Chaired Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Task Force for Innovation and Technology for the City of Houston; and served on the Greater Houston Partnership’s Innovation Advisory Board. By background, JR has spent the last decade launching, leading and growing early-stage technology ventures after starting his career in the financial services industry.

Judge Ogle, Capital One Bank

Deidre Mathis, Wandastay Houston - 2017 Winner

Diedre Mathis has firmly inserted herself into the hospitality and travel industries with the creation of Wanderstay Houston, private and shared accommodations catering to budget conscious travelers. Having traveled to over 37 countries on all 7 continents, Mathis fell in love with the instant community and cultural diversity hostels provided. She wanted to bring that same experience stateside. Mathis holds a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from Florida A&M University, a master’s degree in corporate communications from Bowie State University and a graduate certificate in Tourism Management from the George Washington School of Business.

Mechelle Tran, Pho Saigon Vietnamese Noodle House

Mechelle is a partner at Pho Saigon Vietnamese Noodle House. She joined her family business in 2007 and helped with its expansion. She is currently building another location in Pearland, TX. She is also a partner at Riel Restaurant, a modern American concept which opened in Montrose in 2017.

Mechelle believes in perseverance and integrity. She also stands behind the importance of charity work. She has a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology and Sociology from the University of Houston, and a Master in Education from St. Thomas University.

Freddie Raines, Capital One Bank

Megan Eddings, Accel Lifestyle - 2017 Winner

Megan Eddings was born and raised in Rhode Island, majored in Chemistry at The University of Virginia and worked in science labs at UVA and Brown University.  Megan is full of life, a “positivity enthusiast” and absolutely loves science, fashion, fitness and giving back.

Siemens Medical offered her a Medical Sales job here in Houston 14 years ago and she has been in Texas ever since.

Maria Rios, Nation Waste, Inc.

Maria Rios is the President and CEO of Nation Waste, Inc. (NWI), the first female Hispanic-owned waste removal company in United States history and one of the largest minority-owned companies in the state of Texas.  NWI is a fully-certified, commercial waste disposal company specializing in construction, demolition, commercial/industrial non-hazardous waste removal, portable toilets and recycling services.

Maria is living the American dream, as she began her U.S. journey emigrating from El Salvador as a child. Her family came to the U.S. to pursue education and a better life. Through reliance on faith, a relentless work ethic and determination, Rios graduated from Houston Community College and earned her BA from the University of Houston.

Mariadele Priest, Capital One Bank

Henry Keculah, 4.0 GPA - 2017 Winner

Henry Keculah Jr. is an American citizen of Liberian descent who came from humble beginnings. A graduated of the University of Texas at Austin, Henry did not have much and was determined to change his future. Upon graduating college, Henry started 4.0 GPA (Growth, Productivity and Accountability) LLC., which serves as an education consulting firm and resource for schools and private organizations. 

4.0 GPA's award-winning curriculum prepares students for college and/or certification programs, and provides their parents with the tools to assist their child with the college admissions process. 4.0 GPA is a one-stop-shop for all of your educational needs. From fundraising/grant writing, to professional development and enrichments programs for students, 4.0 GPA does it all. 


This one of a kind opportunity engages and empowers Houstonians to achieve their dream of owning a business. As a first step towards this goal, Lifoff Houston provides aspiring entrepreneurs with access to the essential tools, resources and support necessary to develop a sound business plan.  The five month long competition consists of four stages:

  • orientation
  • workshops
  • mentoring
  • business pitching

Participate, learn and compete for a chance to pitch your business plan in one of three business categories: Innovation, Product and Service.  Winners will receive $10,000 to get their business off the ground.

To learn about the competition, visit Liftoff Houston's website or call 832-393-0954.


More information

Liftoff Houston | Email | 2018 Winner Bios | Telephone: 832-393-0954

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