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

 
 

Here's what companies are in the latest cohort for gBETA. Photo courtesy of gBETA

An early-stage accelerator has picked its latest cohort of five Houston companies.

The Fall 2020 cohort of gBETA Houston includes:

  • AllIDoIsCook is founded by Tobi Smith and focused on exposing the world to Africa's cuisine by manufacturing gourmet food products delivered directly to customer doors and available at grocers. Since launching, AllIDoIsCook has built out a manufacturing facility, shipped over 8,000 boxes and generated $1.1 million in revenue all without outside funding.
  • Chasing Watts makes it easy for cyclists to coordinate or find rides with fellow riders in their area with its web-based and native application. The company has over 3,000 users and grew 135 percent from Q2 to Q3 in new ride views.
  • DanceKard, founded by Erica Sinner, is a new dating platform that connects individuals and groups with one another by bringing the date to the forefront of the conversation and making scheduling faster and easier with special promotions featuring local establishments. Since launching in August of 2021, DanceKard has over 170 users on the platform.
  • Dollarito is a digital lending platform that helps the low-income Hispanic population with no credit history or low FICO score access fair credit. Founded by Carmen Roman, Dollarito applies AI into banking, transactional and behavioral data to evaluate the repayment capability more accurately than using FICO scores. The company has1,000 users on their waitlist and plans to beta test with 100 or more customers in early 2022.
  • SeekerPitch, founded by Samantha Hepler, operates with the idea that jobseekers' past job titles and resumes are not always indicative of their true capabilities. Launched last month, SeekerPitch empowers companies to see who jobseekers are as people, and get to know them through comprehensive profiles and virtual speed interviews, and the company already has 215 jobseekers and 20 companies on the platform, with one pilot at University of Houston and three more in the pipeline.

The companies kicked off their cohort in person on October 18, and the program concludes on December 14 with the gBETA Houston Fall 2021 Pitch Night. At this event, each company will present their five-minute pitch to an audience of mentors, investors, and community members.

"The five founding teams selected for our gBETA Houston Fall 2021 cohort are tackling unique problems they have each experienced personally, from finding access to cultural foods, fitness communities and authentic dating experiences to challenges with non-inclusive financing and hiring practices," says Kate Evinger, director of gBETA Houston, in the release. "The grit and passion these individuals bring to their roles as founders will undoubtedly have a tremendous impact in the Houston community and beyond."

The accelerator has supported 15 Houston startups since it launched in Houston in early 2020. The program, which is free and hosted out of the Downtown Launchpad, is under the umbrella of Madison, Wisconsin-based international accelerator, gener8tor.

"Downtown Launchpad is an innovation hub like no other, and I am so proud of what it is already and what it will become," says Robert Pieroni, director of economic development at Central Houston Inc., in the release. "The five startups selected for the gBETA Houston Fall 2021 cohort are exploring new challenges that can become high-impact Houston businesses."

gBETA announced its plan to launch in Houston in September 2019. The program's inaugural cohort premiered in May and conducted the first program this summer completely virtually. The second cohort took place last fall, and the third ran earlier this year.

"These founders are building their companies and benefiting from the resources Downtown Launchpad provides," Pieroni continues, "and the proof is in the data – companies in these programs are creating jobs, growing their revenues and exponentially increasing their funding, which means these small starts up of today, working in Downtown Launchpad, are growing into the successful companies of tomorrow."

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