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.

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Building Houston

 
 

"There's something magical happening in Houston, and [VCs] want a piece of it." Photo via Getty Images

Houston's seen a growth in startup and venture investment — even amid the pandemic — and a group of Houston innovators sat down for a virtual event to discuss what's lead to this evolution.

The Greater Houston Partnership hosted an installment of its Houston Industry Series focused on Digital Tech on Thursday, September 24. The panel of experts, moderated by Krisha Tracy of Google Cloud, discussed how they've observed the paradigm shift that's occurred in Houston over the past few years — and why.

Missed the discussion? Here are some significant overheard moments from the virtual event.

“I think there really is an interest for venture capital here, both locally and also welcoming it from outside of Houston. … There’s something magical happening in Houston, and [VCs] want a piece of it. I think that magical piece is a renewed interest in collaborating.”

Stephanie Campbell, managing director of Houston Angel Network and co-founder of The Artemis Fund. "I think a lot [of this progress] is due to the GHP, Houston Exponential, and the founding of the HX Venture Fund to bring those venture funds to Houston to say, 'what's happening here?'" Campbell adds, saying that this connectivity and collaboration that's happening in Houston VC is unique.

“I think there’s a misconception around all we do is oil and gas and life science in Houston, but when you think about what VC-backable companies look like, they’re tech, they’re B2B SaaS, they’re highly scalable, and they don’t tend to be capital-intensive types of things we see corporate venture backing.”

Campbell says, adding "the connectivity and the interest in VC is really taking off. It's an exciting time to be in Houston and Texas in general."

“Plug and Play’s ventures team is based in Silicon Valley and one thing they enjoy about meeting Houston-based founders is valuations tend to be more reasonable than in the Bay Area."

Payal Patel, director of Plug and Play Tech Center in Houston. "There are gems to be found," she adds.

“I don’t know what it is — if it’s something in the water or just Texans being very friendly, but the investors here share deal flow. It takes a village, and I think we all understand a rising tide lifts all boats."

Patel says on the collaborative nature of Houston. "It's really magical."

“What you’re witnessing is a city that has been waiting for industrial innovation to reach the point where it can be adopted at a really high scale, and that happened around 2017.”

Jon Nordby, managing director at MassChallenge Texas in Houston. Nordby adds that MassChallenge in Houston hasn't been keen on consumer tech, or the "grilled cheese delivery apps," as he describes. "We like companies that are in love with problems, not so much in love with solutions. … We build really meaningful tech."

“Over the last year or two, we’ve seen that sleeping giant get awoken. Open and external innovation is newly adopted by more legacy industries where it wasn’t before — and that’s just created a mountain of opportunities for startups and investors alike.”

Nordby says on the shift toward this meaningful, problem-solving technology, which Houston is full of, as he observes.

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