Dishing on dishes

This female-founded Houston startup is shaking up tableware design

This isn't your grandmother's tableware company. Courtesy of Rigby

A good tableware set comes into your life once in a lifetime — and usually that occasion is from a wedding registry. But a Houston entrepreneur wants to change that way of thinking.

Sara Kelly created her direct-to-consumer tableware brand called Rigby, which features handcrafted stoneware dishes, glassware, and a flatware line.

"With Rigby I want to encourage individuals in all life stages to feel at home with the present," says Kelly in a news release. "You shouldn't feel like you have to wait for a big lifetime event, like getting married or buying a house, to purchase tableware and other items that make your time at home more enjoyable."

Kelly, founder, tells InnovationMap that as a single professional she felt disconnected from the tableware industry, which she says is focused on wedding registries and unrealistic entertaining. After realizing that her friends felt the same way, Kelly saw an opportunity to start a business and the idea for Rigby was born in 2017. She launched the line just two years later in August.

"The reaction to the brand and the product has been great," says Kelly. "It's been so exciting for me to see that. At this point, we're focused on organic growth since we're so new."

The brand's pieces are crafted and hand-finished by professional craftspeople in Portugal. Kelly tells InnovationMap that she was inspired to source from the country following her travels in Europe where she purchased a few ceramic pieces. The company currently partners with three different factories across Portugal.

Drawn to the centuries-old heritage crafts of stoneware, glassware, and flatware production in Europe, Kelly tells InnovationMap that she knew that she wanted to partner with factories that incorporate a human touch into every step of the process.

Kelly, originally from the Southampton neighborhood in the Houston-area, moved back to the city six years ago. She tells InnovationMap that Houston's growing and supportive startup community was key to her decision to grow Ribgy into a national brand from the Lone Star state. Before launching Rigby, Kelly worked in product marketing for four years.

"Houston is a great market, and we're based here, so it's really important to me to have a presence in Houston," says Kelly. "Right now, I'm in the process of figuring out how the product can get in front of people here through pop-ups, and collaborations with other brands and influencers."

Rigby's stoneware includes mugs, dinner plates, salad plates, pasta bowls, and breakfast bowls, which are all available in off white, mint, charcoal-navy, and grey. Hand-blown glasses are available in a short and a tall design and each piece is unique. The 18/10 stainless steel flatware sets are available in polished stainless steel, satin black, satin gold, and satin copper finishes. Pricing for sets of four range from $48 to $64 for dishware, $56 to $64 for glassware, and $180 to $280 for flatware. Rigby's collection is available only online.

"I put a lot of thought into the design details of each piece and carefully considered how each piece feels in your hand," says Kelly. "The plates have an angled rim, which makes them easy to pick up and prevents food from spilling off the sides. The stoneware dishes feel substantial in your hand — not dainty or fragile — and stack on shelves nicely. Our flatware has a sleek, slightly rounded silhouette and feels comfortable when held. All of our items are dishwasher safe."

Kelly tells InnovationMap that Rigby's focus on craftsmanship and high quality products helps them stand out from their competitors. "We're also focused on people's real lives, so instead of the 'Instagram perfect' message, it's about how people live their lives everyday," says Kelly.

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Building Houston

 
 

Plug and Play, an international accelerator and investment group with a presence in Houston, joined a panel to discuss startup investment, networking, and more during the pandemic. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

It's no secret that the spread of COVID-19 has greatly affected startup ecosystems by shutting down coworking and accelerator spaces and providing economic uncertainty in the venture capital world. However, organizations focused on investment and acceleration are still working to virtually guide startups virtually.

Plug and Play Tech Center, an accelerator and investment group based in Silicon Valley that recently launched its Houston presence, is still offering support and even investments to startups as the pandemic continues on. One way they've recently done so is through Houston Exponential on a virtual panel to answer questions from Houston entrepreneurs.

On the panel, Neda Amidi, partner and global head of health at Plug and Play Tech Center, Milad Malek, associate at Plug and Play Ventures, and Payal Patel, director at Plug and Play Houston, discussed concerns and questions about the organization's dedication to Houston, advice amid the pandemic, and more. If you missed it or don't have time to stream the whole conversation, here are some impactful moments of the chat.

“Timing and opportunity set up the Plug and Play Houston office. The mayor and other business leaders in Houston had seen what happens in our Silicon Valley office and with all the things that are going on in the burgeoning startup community in Houston, we saw the opportunity.”

— Patel says on how Houston snagged its very own Plug and Play location. "Given the high concentration of large companies here — as well as the growing number of investment opportunities — we moved quite quickly to open the office here," she adds.

“There’s a number of great entrepreneurs here in this city. I think a missing ingredient has been the number of early stage investments — especially in that Seed or series A stage. So, we hope to make an impact in that. Our CEO has publicly stated that he’d like to make five investments in Houston a year.”

— Patel shares about Plug and Play's investment strategy in Houston. She adds that five investments in Houston a year is the bare minimum, and they actually are striving for more.

“[Investing virtually is] kind of the same process, but we definitely try to make sure we have cameras on and distractions are away, really giving that entrepreneur that same experience as we can in a face-to-face meeting."

— Amidi says on how Plug and Play's investment team approaches investment meetings and pitches during this time. She explains that during the beginning of the pandemic, most of their investments were with companies that had existing relationships with or follow on deals. Now they have made investments in companies they've never met in person. She says Plug and Play has relied on its network to give feedback on these potential deals.

“During COVID, we’ve recommended to a lot of our portfolio companies to raise more than what they needed at the time to be able to power through what’s happening now and what will happen on the economy side as well."

— Amidi says about investment advice they've given to Plug and Play startups.

“A lot of hardware companies get too intense in terms of thinking about one avenue of fundraising. Spend a lot more time thinking about fundraising strategy.”

Malek says on fundraising for hardware startups specifically. He adds that there are other options for generating cash flow, like grants. "Don't forget the business side of things" he adds. "I know early on, a lot of founders are focused on the technology and prototyping, but it's important as well to think about a compelling narrative for potential investors — even if you're pre-revenue."

"For SaaS, it’s important to have a unique differentiation. There are a lot of copy cats in this realm. It’s ok to be doing something that has competitors — every startup has competitors."

— Malek says about software-as-a-service startups pitching to investors. "It's a red flag when we're talking to a startup — especially one with a SaaS product — that says we don't have competitors," he adds, saying it's usually not true.

“A lot of investors out there prefer teams with multiple founders and not just one founder. It never hurts, at least in an investor’s eyes, to have two or three founders.”

— Malek explains, responding to a question about how to begin the process of bringing another co-founder on board. Investors, he says, value a team with diverse backgrounds and expertise.

“Take your time — it’s kind of like picking a spouse or partner. You want to make sure you’re compatible.”

Amidi adds, saying it's an exceptionally difficult process nowadays. She recommends reaching out to your network for leads on a potential co-founder or even looking into sites like AngelList or LinkedIn.

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