Leading ladies

3 female Houston startup founders to watch in 2019

Three female-founded companies pitched to potential investors at The Cannon. Here's why they are ones to watch. Courtesy photos

The Lone Star State has been deemed a great place for female entrepreneurs to get their feet wet, and Houston's ecosystem is full of these leading ladies. At a pitch party at The Cannon, a coworking space in West Houston, over 100 guests, including Cannon Ventures investors and Cannon members, gathered to hear three of these female founders pitch their companies.

From DNA dating and smart pillboxes to an educational franchise company, these three female-led institutions are ones to watch this year. Here's why.

X&Y Technologies

Brittany Barreto wants X&Y Technologies to be known for its science-based dating expertise. Karla Martin/Pheramor

Now is the time to have a DNA-based technology company, says Brittany Barreto, CEO and co-founder of X&Y Technologies. She launched her genetics-based data app over two years ago, and now she's expanding the brand to include a couples compatibility test and B-to-B software-as-a-service feature, so that other dating apps can utilize her technology.

"Our traction with the dating app was a fantastic way to prove that we are the thought leaders, we have the infrastructure, and we have the algorithm and we've proven that the market is ready to buy a DNA kit to find love," she says in her pitch.

With fundraising plans in 2019, Barreto hopes to launch the expanded company, and says she has already seen a lot of interest in both of the new DNA-based products. Read more about Pheramor's national growth, the X&Y expansion, and how Barreto got her start.

IDEA Lab Kids

Ghazal Qureshi pitched her education franchise company, IDEA Lab Kids, and discussed her plans to double its presence in 2019. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Six years ago, when Ghazal Qureshi wanted an after school program for her kid and their diverse interests, she created it. Now, the interactive programming that focuses on the science, technology, engineering, arts and math activities for kids is a growing franchise opportunity. After launching the franchise model in February 2017, IDEA Lab Kids already has 10 locations, with seven coming on board within the next few months — including a location in Ecuador.

"In 2019, we're looking to double the number of campuses," Qureshi says in her pitch.

What makes IDEA Lab different from its competitors, she says, is the interactive and diversified curriculum that engages all children.

"We know that kids have limited attention spans theses days," Qureshi says. "New technologies and methods are needed every day in order to grasp that attention span, and that is what we are really good at. At any given day, there are drones flying, augmented reality, cooking classes, and more are happening under the roof of an IDEA Lab campus."

In addition to expanding its presence, Qurshi has worked to roll our new products, such as a coding club, updated website registration tools

EllieGrid

Regina Vatterott is thinking outside the pillbox with her startup, EllieGrid. Courtesy of EllieGrid

When she was in college, Regina Vatterott fainted on her way to lunch. She had lapsed on taking her medicine and vitamins, which caused an imbalance in her health. She was using a traditional pillbox that was tacky and a pain to organize and starting thinking about a product that was more stylish and used smart technology. She and her cofounders created EllieGrid, a sleek pillbox that syncs to your phone to send you messages when its time to take your meds and allows for an easier organization process.

EllieGrid's reception has been great, and the company is expanding to provide users new tools and technology. For instance, EllieGrid is starting to learn more about when its users take its medicine, which can translate to partnerships with insurence companies that currently pay pharmacies to check in with patients who haven't picked up their medicine.

"For us, Ellie is just the start," Vatterott says in an interview with InnovationMap. "We want to develop more health and wellness accessories that are traditionally known to be medical devices."

Large companies are taking interest in the Houston-based startup. Over the past three weeks, Best Buy, Walmart, CVS Health, and Pelion all reached out and expressed interest in the company, some actually placing orders and setting up trials.

On his failed investor attempt on Shark Tank, Brooks Powell couldn't secure a shark investment for $400,000. Now, he just closed on $2.1 million for his startup. Courtesy of Cheers

When Brooks Powell's Houston-based startup got passed over by the investors on Shark Tank last year, he didn't let it deter him. Instead, the Houston entrepreneur buckled down and started seeking investments off the screen.

It paid off, and Cheers (née Thrive+) recently closed a $2.1 million seed round. The round was lead by NextView Ventures, which has the likes of TaskRabbit, threadUP, and Letgo among its portfolio.

With the new investment, Brooks says the company is rebranding from Thrive, its original moniker, to Cheers.

"Thrive+ doesn't really say anything about what we did or who we are about," Powell says. "We knew we needed something fitting for the alcohol industry but at the same time has the connotation of fun, responsibility, and health."

The process has been daunting, but worth it, Powell says, citing companies like Ring, which changed its company name from Doorbot.

"It would be hard to imagine Amazon buying a company named Doorbot," Powell says.

It's worth noting that Doorbot rebranded also following a similar rejection on Shark Tank.

Once Cheers had its new name, Powell began the process of the transition — relabeling bottles, redoing marketing materials, etc. There's still a long road ahead for the rebranding, but Powell says he wasn't going to drag his feet, since the change would just become more expensive and more challenging. Ring, for instance, had to pay $1 million for its new domain name.

"We wanted to become Cheers as soon as possible, because it would only become harder as time went on," he says.

From student to CEO
Cheers' formula isn't new. The key ingredient, Dihydromyricetin, a natural extract — like caffeine to coffee, which made the FDA process smooth sailing. DHM started being identified as an anti-alcohol treatment in 2012 following experiments on the effects on rats.

Around that time, Powell was a sophomore at Princeton University, and he came across the science surrounding DHM and knew if he could harness the natural extract for commercial use, it'd change the game of hangover health.

"I started working with some of my professors and asking them if it was safe and would it be effective," Powell says.

At the time, there was very little amount of DHM in the United States, so the company became the first to import the ingredient on a large scale.

Powell graduated from Princeton in 2017 and moved his company to its workspace in The Cannon.

Serving up growth
Cheers has seen a tremendous amount of growth over the past year. The company's revenue increased 20 times year over year. A key determiner of success for the company, Powell says, has been strategic marketing and a working product.

"Primarily products such as this, historically, have never worked," he says. "And they've always been marketing toward binge drinkers and partiers."

Another strategy Powell has is giving the company a presence nationwide by having advisers and investors from both coasts.

"What we have tried to do is have our cake and eat it too. We set roots in Houston, but we have our hands in other markets."

In addition to rebranding, Cheers plans to continue its growth, as well as research and development of the product.