well heeled in comfort

Houston neuroscientist turned startup founder takes steps toward comfier shoes

Steffie Tomson founded a company to prioritize comfort — without sacrificing style — for women on the go. Photo via getawaysticks.com

Two and half years ago, native Houstonian Steffie Tomson ordered $2,000 worth of shoes and sliced them all in half with a bandsaw just to see what was inside.

Tomson, a neuroscientist by trade and the founder and CEO of footwear startup Getaway Sticks, had an idea for a different kind of shoe — one that was redesigned to prioritize women’s comfort.

“I thought, ‘why can’t we start with a sneaker material and then build a heel around it?’” she tells InnovationMap. “I started just slicing everyone else’s shoes and now I’m more convinced than ever that our shoe is different.”

Tomson was inspired to design the inaugural shoe for Getaway Sticks after her own struggle with heels, walking in the bustling Texas Medical Center from building to building for meetings. As a mom of two and a problem solver, she knew there had to be a better mousetrap.

“No other shoe offers this type of foam with the height that we offer it,” she says of the wedge-style shoe, which offers a wide toe box, soft suede material and limited height for stability and joint health.

The comfortable wedge is available in several colors. Photo via getawaysticks.com

With her scientist background, she would think about the “cognitive cycles” that get spent in dealing with schedules and matching corresponding footwear.

“’This shoe goes with this outfit, but does this shoe get me from this meeting back from the parking lot? Does it fit with the pant?’ It’s just an infinite decision tree of how to get your wardrobe aligned with the shoes — when all I ever wanted was a capsule collection of shoes that would just work for me all the time,” she says.

Typically, the fashion industry constructs shoes in a very traditional way, she says, and because of this, Tomson was met with much resistance from manufacturers to get the right materials for her prototype.

“I think there’s a lot of money that gets thrown around trying to get women to buy shoes,” says Tomson. “Those may or may not be comfortable. There’s just not enough being poured into getting women to buy shoes that’s really been designed for us with us in mind.”

Getaway Sticks went through the gBETA accelerator last spring, which helped springboard the company and connect Tomson with the local innovation ecosystem.

“There aren’t many people who are making shoes in Houston, but there’s a lot of support for cool ideas and novel thinking here,” she says. I’m glad that I’ve been made aware of them and invited into these groups.”

Now past its first pre-seed phase and prepping for its initial round of seed funding in 2023, Getaway Sticks is looking ahead at its next shoe launch in the coming months — the ballet flat.

“I think that we as women can identify with the fact that we all have a really beautiful pair of heels and they are almost certainly not going to be comfortable,” she says. “And we may have a really comfortable pair of heels, but they are not always the cutest thing in our wardrobe. We always have to kind of flip and decide. I just felt strongly that we needed something to make our lives simpler.”

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Building Houston

 
 

This Houston staffing firm has tapped into tech to support the growing gig economy workforce. Photo via Getty Images

As the independent workforce continues to grow, a Houston-based company is aiming to connect these workers with companies that match their specific needs with a new digital platform.

FlexTek, a 14-year old recruiting and staffing company, launched a first gig site tailored to the needs of the individual worker. The platform, Workz360, is built to be able to manage projects, maintain quality control, and manage billing and year-end financial reporting.The company is also working to expanding the platform to provide infrastructure to assist independent workers with education, access to savings programs, tax compliance through vetted third-party CPA firms, and hopes in the future to assist with access to liability and medical insurance.

With a younger workforce and a shifting economy, the “gig economy,” which is another way to describe how people can earn a living as a 1099 worker, offers an alternative option to the corporate grind in a post-pandemic workscape. Chief Marketing Officer Bill Penczak of Workz360 calls this era “Gig 2.0,” and attributes the success of this type of workforce to how during the COVID-19 pandemic people learned how to work, and thrive in non-traditional work environments. The site also boasts the fact it won’t take a bite out of the worker’s pay, which could be an attractive sell for many since other sites can take up to 65 percent of profit.

“In the past few years, with the advent of gig job platforms, the Independent workers have been squeezed by gig work platforms taking a disproportionate amount of the workers’ income,” said FlexTek CEO and founder Stephen Morel in a news release. “As a result, there has been what we refer to as ‘pay padding,’ a phenomenon in which workers are raising their hourly or project rates to compensate for the bite taken by other platforms.

"Workz360 is designed to promote greater transparency, and we believe the net result will be for workers to thrive and companies to save money by using the platform,” he continues.

As the workforce has continued to change over the years, a third of the current U.S. workforce are independent workers according to FlexTek, workers have gained the ability to have more freedom where and how they work. Workz360 aims to cater to this workforce by believing in a simple mantra of treating your workers well.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about this, but we like the Southwest Airlines model,” Penczak tells InnovationMap. “Southwest Airlines treats their people very well, and as a result those employees treat the passengers really well. We believe the same thing holds true. If we can provide resources, and transparency, and not take a bite out of what the gig worker is charging, then we will get the best and the brightest people since they feel like they won’t be taken advantage of. We think there is an opportunity to be a little different and put the people first.”

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