What's poppin'

Houston-based shopping startup flips the script on retail leasing

PopUp founders Rob Dobson, Scott Blair, Megan Silianoff, and Barry Goldware. Courtesy photo

If you're a mall or shopping center, the last thing you want is an empty storefront. If you're a small retailer or entrepreneur, the last thing you want is to be unable to get your product into the hands of customers. Houston-based tech start-up PopUp Shops has a solution: Its Match.com-esque system connects those retailers with property managers who are looking to lease space for the short term.

Launched in the Bayou City last year, the platform made its nationwide debut following an appearance at the International Council of Shopping Centers national conference in Las Vegas in May.

"It's exciting," says Megan Silianoff, a partner in PopUp Shops, of the coast-to-coast expansion. "It's proof our concept — and our hypothesis about it — works."

Silianoff says that retail shopping as we know it is dying. Across the country, malls and shopping centers have spaces sitting empty. Meanwhile, consumers purchase things online and have them delivered to their doors. That's why PopUp Shops' matchmaking concept works so well, she feels.

"Some rent is better than no rent," she reasons, for landlords. "We're a solution to get retailers into brick-and-mortar spaces, even if it is for the short term. It helps the retailer build awareness and excitement about their brand, and it creates foot traffic for the shopping center. It's win-win."

PopUp Shops' website lists spaces available for rent and retailers can peruse the listings and lease space. Silianoff says the system is also a great way for a retailer to test out a market before deciding to have a permanent presence there. She's quick to point out that pop-up stores aren't necessarily new. During the holidays in the 1980s and 1990s, it wasn't uncommon to see temporary stores selling Christmas décor or calendars in malls all over the U.S.

"My business partner Barry Goldware of Sun and Ski Sports likes to say the Romans probably had pop-up shops," she jokes. "But what is new is the platform we're using to connect landlords and retailers."

And, while landlords and sellers connect to find business solutions that are mutually beneficial, Silianoff says that customers wishing to find out what's happening and who's in town will soon be able to go to the website and check out the calendar, which lists which stores are popping up where.

While the nationwide launch is still in its early days, Silianoff says she hopes someday to see it like Craigslist. "You know how when you go there, there's a drop-down of all the cities in the country? That's what I'm envisioning for us. I really want us to revolutionize the shopping experience."

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

Mike Francis, co-founder of NanoTech, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss his plans to fireproof California. Photo courtesy of NanoTech

A few years ago, Mike Francis caught a video of a man's hand coated in some sort of material and placed over a fire. Nothing was happening to the man's hand — the coating completely protected it — but something was happening in Francis's brain, and a year ago he founded Nanotech Inc.

Based in Houston, NanoTech' is focused on reducing energy waste by proper insulation within the construction industry — a half inch of NanoTech's material is the equivalent of 30 inches of fiberglass. However, perhaps more important to Francis is the life-saving capability the product provides in terms of fireproofing.

"We're working with all of the major players in the state of California to not only fireproof the utility infrastructure, but eventually homes and businesses," Francis says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Our goal, if we're looking into the future, is to fireproof that state — and we're working with the right people and companies to make it happen."

To the best of his knowledge, Francis says NanoTech is the only company this far along working on this goal. Millions of utility poles go up in flames as the forest fires sweep through the state, and coating them with NanoTech could help prevent this damage.

Of course, as the company grows, Francis is lucky to have the support and the funds behind him and his team. Earlier this year, Halliburton selected NanoTech as the inaugural member of Halliburton Labs. For the past few months, NanoTech has been based in the labs, receiving hands-on support, and NanoTech will join the year-long inaugural cohort of 15 or so companies in 2021.

NanoTech also has a new member to its support system — and $5 million — following the close of its seed round led by Austin-based Ecliptic Capital. Francis says he was looking for an investor to bring new expertise the company doesn't have yet, and Ecliptic will be crucial to growing globally.

"Those first investors, especially in your seed round, are critical to your growth," says Francis. "We're so excited to be partnering with Ecliptic — we just trusted them."

Francis shares more about fundraising during a pandemic and what being based at Halliburton has meant for his company's growth. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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