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

 
 

InformAI has three AI-based products geared at improving health care. Photo via Getty Images

In Houston, we’re lucky to have top-tier doctors in the Texas Medical Center, ready to treat us with the newest technology. But what about our family members who have to rely on rural hospitals? Thanks to one Houston company, doctors in smaller community hospitals may soon have new tools at their disposal that could improve outcomes for patients around the world.

Since InnovationMap last caught up with Jim Havelka, CEO of InformAI, two years ago, that hope has come far closer to a reality. InformAI is a VC-backed digital health company. Part of JLABS @ TMC innovation facilities, the company uses artificial intelligence to develop both diagnostic tools and clinical outcome predictors. And two of the company’s products will undergo FDA regulatory testing this year.

SinusAI, which helps to detect sinus-related diseases in CT scans, received its CE Mark — the European equivalent of FDA approval — last year and is being sold across the Atlantic today, says Havelka. He adds that in the United States alone, there are roughly 700,000 sinus surgeries that the product is positioned to support.

Another product, RadOnc-AI, is designed to help doctors prescribe radiation dose plans for head and neck cancers.

“Ideally the perfect plan would be to provide radiation to the tumor and nothing around it,” says Havelka. “We’ve built a product, RadOnc-AI, which autogenerates the dose treatment plan based on medical images of that patient.”

It can be an hours-long process for doctors to figure out the path and dose of radiation themselves, but the new product “can build that initial pass in about five minutes,” Havelka says.

That in itself is an exciting development, but because this technology was developed using the expertise of some of the world’s top oncologists, “the first pass plan is in line with what [patients would] get at tier-one institutions,” explains Havelka. This creates “tremendous equity” among patients who can afford to travel to major facilities and those that can’t.

To that end, RadOnc-AI was recently awarded a $1.55 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, a state agency that funds cancer research. The Radiological Society of North America announced late last year that InformAI was named an Aunt Minnie Best of Radiology Finalist.

“It’s quite prestigious for our company,” says Havelka. Other recent laurels include InformAI being named one of the 10 most promising companies by the Texas Life Science Forum in November.

And InformAI is only gaining steam. A third product is earlier in its stage of development. TransplantAI will optimize donor organ and patient recipient matches.

“A lot of organs are harvested and discarded,” Havelka says.

His AI product has been trained on a million donor transplants to help determine who is the best recipient for an organ. It even takes urgency into account, based on a patient’s expected mortality within 90 days. The product is currently a fully functional prototype and will soon move through its initial regulatory clearances.

The company — currently backed by three VC funds, including DEFTA Partners, Delight Ventures, and Joyance Partners — is planning to do another seed round in Q2 of 2023.

“We’ve been able to get recognized for digital health products that can be taken to market globally,” says Havelka.

But what he says he’s most excited about is the social impact of his products. With more money raised, InformAI will be able to speed up development of additional products, including expanding the cancers that the company will be targeting. And with that, more and more patients will one day be treated with the highest level of care.

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