You b8ta believe it

10 futuristic products you can buy today in this Galleria store that's flipping the script on retail

B8ta has all the perks of a digital marketplace — but customers are able to physically test all the products. Photo by Natalie Harms

Retail is in a transformative phase, as more and more consumers are shopping online. According to United States Census data, over 9 percent of this year's first-quarter retail sales were e-commerce transactions — that's more than doubled in less than 10 years. But one brick-and-mortar retailer has a new approach to sales for new, innovative products entering the marketplace.

San Francisco-based b8ta opened its first store in 2015, and now has 13 flagship stores nationwide — in addition to having setups in Lowe's stores across the country. Houston's first and only location opened in October of 2017 in the Galleria.

The store acts as a general marketplace, where companies can rent shelf space at the store to feature their products — everything from home accessories to tech gadgets and even items like electric skateboards. Consumers can come into the store and test products, and the developers can see — in real time — how customers are interacting with their products.

"If you look at our store, nothing's in a box. Everything is out on display," says Jalal Bsaiso, b8ta Houston's general manager. "Everything has a tablet with information on the product, and that data is controlled by the maker — they can swap photos, change pricing, all on the fly. They also can see analytics in real time. They can see how many people walk by their product and how long they are engaging. Sales associates log demos we do with the customer, so the partner can see that too."

Bsaiso says that innovators have trouble entering brick-and-mortar sales because consumers need to take the products out of the box to experience them and have a sales associate educate and demonstrate how to use the product. The company's three founders — Phillip Raub, Vibhu Norby, and William Mintun — worked at Nest, a smart home technology product, prior to launching b8ta. They saw Nest struggle to get into brick-and-mortar stores and started envisioning a concept that would be right for products like Nest.

"Online it's easy to sell something," Bsaiso says. "You post it on your website, you have analytics, and you can see how people got to your website and what they purchased. There's nothing like that in physical retail."

Product makers can apply online to become b8ta partners. Usually, each partner has products in at least half of the 13 stores, and every product has an inventory of six to 10 products in the store.

"Retail is evolving," Bsaiso says. "I think everything is moving toward experience. You don't want to spend $200 online on a product that might not even work for you from a company you're not really familiar with."

The store will stock any types of products in its stores, as long as it fits the bill as an innovative product. Here are 10 that seem like are from the future.

A self-caring herb garden

Photo by Natalie Harms

The Véritable Indoor Garden has lights that mimics the sun and a tank of water that together lets your plants be all set for up to 3 weeks.

A camera with 16 lenses

Photo by Natalie Harms

The Light L16 camera would make a spider jealous. With 16 lenses, the camera captures all the different types of lighting and focus to ensure you capture the best picture.

A gadget to make you fluent in every language

Photo by Natalie Harms

Here's one for the world traveler. Pocketalk Two-Way Voice Translator allows you to translate what someone is trying to tell you, and vice versa.

A collar that tells you everything you need to know about Fido

Photo by Natalie Harms

The LINK AKC™ Smart Dog Classic Collar tells you everything from location and body temperature to even recording activity.

A device that swims for you

Photo by Natalie Harms

Going on an underwater adventure? The WHITESHARK MIX Underwater Scooter is the smallest underwater scooter and takes you 3.35 miles per hour with its two propellers.

A shark-preventing ankle band

Photo by Natalie Harms

The Sharbanz technology prevents any nefarious sharks from coming anywhere close to you.

A robot to talk to your child

Photo by Natalie Harms

Tyche AI Learning Robot for Kids learns your child's facial expression, name, and voice to communicate, educate, and interact with him or her.

A next-gen speaker that features the song's lyrics

Photo by Natalie Harms

Ever wonder what that one lyric is in your favorite song? COTODAMA Lyric Speaker will tell you. In addition to featuring the lyrics of most popular songs, the speaker will visualize any tune you queue.

A deep tissue massager the size of headphones

Photo by Natalie Harms

The UGYM mini Deep Tissue Massager vows to relieve back pain and help you sleep better. And, it's on sale.

A handheld smart safety device

Photo by Natalie Harms

Much like your actual father, D.A.D.® 2 (Defense Alert Device), is here to keep you safe. It tracks your location and can send an emergency alert on your behalf. Plus, there's also the military-grade pepper spray to also keep an attacker at bay.

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Building Houston

 
 

Common Desk, which has locations across Houston, has been acquired — and other innovation news. Rendering courtesy of Common Desk

Houston is starting 2022 strong in terms of innovation news, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, the Bayou City is ranked based on its opportunities for STEM jobs, a Houston blockchain startup scores a major contract, Rice University opens applications for its veteran-owned busineess competition, and more.

Data Gumbo announces contract with Equinor

After a successful pilot, Equinor has signed off on a contract with Data Gumbo.. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

Houston-based Data Gumbo, an industrial blockchain-software-as-a-service company, announced that it has signed a contract with Equinor. The global energy company's venture arm, Equinor Ventures, supported the startup's $7.7 million series B round, which closed last year.

The company's technology features smart contract automation and execution, which reduces contract leakage, frees up working capital, enables real-time cash and financial management, and delivers provenance with unprecedented speed, accuracy, visibility and transparency, per the release.

“Equinor is an industry trailblazer, demonstrating the true value of our international smart contract network to improve and automate manual processes, and bring trust to all parties,” says Andrew Bruce, founder and CEO of Data Gumbo, in a news release. “Smart contracts are playing a critical role in driving the energy industry forward. Our work with Equinor clearly demonstrates the benefits that supermajors and their supply chain customers, partners and vendors experience by automating commercial transactions. We are proud to continue our work with Equinor to help them realize the savings, efficiencies and new levels of transparency available through our smart contract network.”

Equinor opted into a pilot with the company a few years ago.

“Since piloting Data Gumbo’s smart contracts for offshore drilling services in 2019, we have worked with the company to continually refine and improve use cases. We now have the potential to expand Data Gumbo’s smart contract network to enable transactional certainty across our portfolio from the Norwegian Continental Shelf to our Brazilian operated assets and beyond,” says Erik Kirkemo, senior vice president at Equinor. “GumboNet reduces inefficiencies and processing time around contract execution in complex supply chains, which is a problem in the broader industry, and we look forward to realizing the streamlined process and cost savings of its rapidly expanding smart contract network.”

WeWork acquires Dallas coworking brand with 6 Houston locations

Common Desk, which has six locations in Houston including in The Ion, has been acquired. Photo courtesy of Common Desk

Dallas-based Common Desk, which has six locations in Houston, announced its acquisition by WeWork. The company's office spaces will be branded as “Common Desk, a WeWork Company,” according to a news release.

“Similar to WeWork, Common Desk is a company built on the concept of bringing people together to have their best day at work," says Nick Clark, CEO at Common Desk, in the release. "With the added support from WeWork, Common Desk will be able to not only leverage WeWork’s decade of experience in member services to improve the experience of our own members but also leverage WeWork’s impressive client roster to further build out our member base.”

Here are the six Common Desk spaces in Houston:

Here's how Houston ranks as a metro for STEM jobs

Source: WalletHub

When it comes to the best cities for jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math, Houston ranks in the middle of the pack. The greater Houston area ranked at No. 37 among the 100 largest metros across 19 key metrics on the list compiled by personal finance website, WalletHub. Here's how Houston fared on the report's metrics:

  • No. 36 – percent of Workforce in STEM
  • No. 74 – STEM Employment Growth
  • No. 43 – Math Performance
  • No. 16 – Quality of Engineering Universities
  • No. 2 – Annual Median Wage for STEM Workers (Adjusted for Cost of Living)
  • No. 90 – Median Wage Growth for STEM Workers
  • No. 75 – Job Openings for STEM Graduates per Capita
  • No. 88 – Unemployment Rate for Adults with at Least a Bachelor’s Degree

Elsewhere in Texas, Austin ranked at No. 2 overall, and Dallas just outranked Houston coming in at No. 34. San Antonio, El Paso, and McAllen ranked No. 51, No. 65, and No. 88, respectively.

Rice University calls for contestants for its 8th annual startup pitch competition for veterans

Calling all veteran and active duty startup founders and business owners. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University is now accepting applications from Houston veterans for its annual business competition. To apply for the 2022 Veterans Business Battle, honorably discharged veterans or active duty founders can head online to learn more and submit their business plan by Feb. 15.

“We’re looking forward to giving veterans the opportunity not just to share their ideas and get financing, but learn from other past winners the lessons about entrepreneurship they’ve lived through while growing their businesses,” event co-chair Reid Schrodel says in a news release.

Over the past few years, finalists have received more than $4 million of investments through the program. This year's monetary prizes add up to $30,000 — $15,000 prize for first place, $10,000 for second place, and $5,000 for third place.

Finalists will be invited to make their business pitch April 22 and 23 at Rice University. Click here to register for the event.

City of Houston receives grant to stimulate STEM opportunities

Houston's youth population is getting a leg up on STEM opportunities. Photo via Getty Images

Thanks to a $150,000 grant from the National League of Cities, the city of Houston has been awarded a chance to provide quality education and career opportunities to at-risk young adults and students. The city is one of five cities also selected to receive specialized assistance from NLC’s staff and other national experts.

“This award is a big win for young people. They will benefit from significant career development opportunities made possible by this grant,” says Mayor Sylvester Turner in a news release. “These are children who would otherwise go without, now having experiences and connections they never thought possible. I commend the National League of Cities for their continued commitment to the future leaders of this country.”

According to the release, the grant money will support the Hire Houston Youth program by connecting diverse opportunity youth to the unique STEM and technology-focused workforce development.

"Our youth deserve educational opportunities that connect them to the local workforce and career exploration, so they can make informed choices about their future career path in Houston’s dynamic economy. Houston youth will only further the amazing things they will accomplish, thanks to this grant," says Olivera Jankovska, director of the Mayor's Office of Education.

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