Just keep swimming

5 startups pitch at Houston's first Dolphin Tank event

Five female startup founders presented at Houston's first Dolphin Tank pitch event. Getty Images

As intimidating as Shark Tank sounds, pitching your company to a group of investors or fellow entrepreneurs can be a very helpful activity. Feedback is crucial for growth and future success.

That's why Amy Millman co-founded Springboard Enterprises and, eventually, launched a female-focused, friendly pitch program called the Dolphin Tank. On October 8, Houston had its first opportunity to host its own Dolphin Tank at Rice Universities LILIE Lab with local women-led startups.

"Entrepreneurship is not a spectator sport," Millman says at the event. "The more people participate in helping companies, the more successful they will be."

Here are the five inaugural Houston Dolphin Tank presenters and the feedback they received from the event.

LAMIK Beauty

Kim Roxie was in makeup sales, and she was frustrated. She wanted to help each of her customers find their perfect makeup match, but it was just impossible. She decided that if the existing makeup brands weren't creating inclusive products, she was going to do it herself.

She founded LAMIK Beauty, which Roxie tells the crowd stands for "Love And Makeup In Kindness." Once she decided she was going to make her own cosmetics line, she began what ended up being eye opening research.

"I started to look at the ingredients inside makeup, and I was pissed off," she says. She wanted her makeup line to have way less of the synthetic ingredients and chemicals other brands have.

She went to New York and met a chemist who had just retied from Estée Lauder and really got the ball rolling on LAMIK. Now, she has some influencers and celebrities wearing her makeup, but wants to serve the underserved. She is looking for $500,000 in investment and plans to do $1.5 million in revenue for her first year of business.

"Women of color spend 80 percent more on cosmetics, but only get 10 percent of the retail shelf space," Roxie says. "That's horrible."

The panelists and the crowd gave their own feedback, and one audience member reminded Roxie that clean products are having a moment, citing another Houston-founded skincare line, Drink Elephant, being acquired recently for $845 million.

Devali

A worker dies of toxic exposure or a heat-related incident in the workplace every 30 seconds somewhere in the world, according to a report from the United Nations, and debilitating injuries happen every three seconds, says Irene Brinker, CEO and founder of Devali.

Through partnerships, Brinker has created a sock and boot-based technology that is capable of detecting early signs of heat stroke, hypothermia, dehydration, and fatigue, as well as gas exposure.

Brinker expresses how new her venture is, and is primarily looking for introductions and potential pilot partnerships.

The feedback Brinker got from the panelists was to reorganize her presentation to talk more about her product and herself upfront. And, something a lot of women struggle with, to not apologize or say "sorry" so offhandedly.

Skin Probiotics

As great and life saving as modern medicine is, some medicines, processed foods, and new age practices affect the chemical balance of our skin. Ellie Hang Trinh discovered the power of probiotics for her kids' digestive system, and then learned of the positive effect they have on skin too. She created Skin Probiotics to sell topical products to treat skin issues.

"We're helping people with dermatitis, which affects about 81 million people in the United States currently, and 20 percent of that is children under the age of 6," Trinh says.

Trinh's plant-based products are safe for children — even newborns. She offers clients a 30-day money back guarantee, which she says she's only had two customers return the product due to allergies.

The feedback Trinh got from the crowd is to focus a bit on the science behind her product, and commended the personal story she has that lead her to her product.

TaxTaker

There are millions of dollars in tax credits that startups and small businesses are missing out of. The process of getting this money back is confusing, clunky, and impossible to navigate for a small staff focused so hard on growing their company and product.

It's estimated that 90 percent of companies aren't taking advantage of these rebates, says Ari Palmer, founder and CEO of Austin-based TaxTaker. Palmer's business is focused on automating this process to make it easier for entrepreneurs.

"You can kind of think of it as a TurboTax for this matter," Palmer says. "We came out of pilot testing in June, and in the first 120 days, we captured $1 million back for startups, and we are generating revenue."

Palmer is looking to raise $500,000 to expand on some product integrations.

The Dolphin Tank feedback was positive but encouraged her to go into a little bit more detail about the solution she's providing and quantify the money and time she's saving for startups.

Organized SHIFT

Landi Spearman knows stress. A former consultant, she had a busy job and even some personal issues that led her to pushing down her stress and emotions. It was extremely unhealthy. Spearman founded Organized SHIFT to help people in that same situation get out if it.

"We help major retailers get their 'shift' together," Spearman says. "We make sure their mid-level managers are processing their emotions, handling complex decisions, and handle confrontations."

Organized SHIFT uses virtual reality to train and educate this key demographic. It's good for the company and good for its employees.

The panelists commending Spearman on her personal story but asked her to consider leading with her expertise and her professional background and to emphasis the money-making side of the business, since it is a B2B, for-profit company.

The winner of the contest will be announced at a Rockets game in early April. Courtesy of Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

It's game on for Houston startups looking to compete in the Launchpad contest backed by BBVA USA and the Houston Rockets.

Houston startups have until February 28 to submit their companies for the competition. Judges from BBVA and the Rockets will select four by late March, and fans will vote on their favorite company. The winner will be presented with a $10,000 check at a Rockets game in late April. The winning startup will also receive consultations with Rockets and BBVA USA executives.

It's the fourth time BBVA has sought out entrepreneurs, but last year the organization revamped the program to focus on technology-driven startups.

"Over the past three years, we have been proud to partner with BBVA to highlight small businesses in Houston and their contribution to our economy," says Rockets Chief Revenue Officer Gretchen Sheirr. "Entering its fourth year, the Launchpad contest seeks nominees focused on using best in class digital strategies to enhance their small business. We look forward to reviewing submissions and honoring the great work that is being done by these businesses in our community.

BBVA's new Houston CEO Dillan Knudson, who was promoted to his new position in November, is excited for his inaugural involvement in the contest.

"It's extremely exciting to collaborate with the Rockets for the first time, and for such a great initiative that helps Houston's thriving small business scene," says Knudson. "Part of my new role is to create opportunities and financial freedom for Houston's communities through the bank's ample resources, and to do that in collaboration with a staple organization of this city is an honor."

Houston-based Hamper, which makes dry cleaning convenient, won the Rockets and BBVA Compass' LaunchPad competition. Courtesy of Hamper

Last year, Launchpad's winner was Hamper. Hamper's co-founder and CEO Safir Ali started his company to use technology to optimize the dry cleaning business and compares Hamper to the "Red Box of dry cleaning." The win was big for Hamper's future.

"It was an absolute pleasure to be recognized by BBVA and the Houston Rockets as the winner of the 2019 Launchpad Contest," says Ali in the release. "It was a very exciting moment for Hamper, and we are very grateful to have the opportunity to be recognized in our community. Many thanks to both BBVA and the Houston Rockets for empowering Houston businesses and giving them such a great platform to be recognized for their efforts, and for playing an active role in empowering entrepreneurship in Houston."