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Houston entrepreneur creates online marketplace to support local shops amid coronavirus crisis

For weeks, local shops were forced to stay closed and focus on online sales. One Houston entrepreneur decided to use technology to help customers support local. Getty Images

The retail industry has been hit hard due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent social distancing measures that kept customers out of stores. With retail stores reopening at 25 percent capacity, a Houston startup is helping customers find and support local independent retailers online.

Support My Local Shop is the 'Yelp" for independent retailers, giving local customers the most accurate information about store hours, allowing customers to write reviews, and support their favorite independent shops by ordering online through the store's website or buying gift cards.

"Before Support My Local Shop there wasn't a great way to find local indie retail stores around you and know exactly how to support them," says the creator of the tool, Adrianne Stone.

Stone, who is also the founder of Stockabl, the wholesale marketplace for handcrafted and independently designed goods. From her retailers, she heard of the struggles they have gone through as shops closed down to prevent the spread of the virus.

Users can find store information on the website. Screenshot via supportmylocal.shop

Support My Local Shop make it easier to order from local Houston shops by creating a platform especially for local retailers. For Stone, it has been a labor of love. Manually inputting information from store websites and creating the retailer's profile within the tool. Retailers have a chance to claim the store page and update it with the most reliable information.

For many retailers, Support My Local Shop is a great tool that customers can use to support them. Forth and Nomad — an apparel, arts, and decor store in the Heights — has become an anchor in the Houston arts and maker community.

"It's a good tool," says Andy Sommer co-founder of Forth and Nomad. "Anytime we can have anything that could point to our business and tell people about us and that wouldn't find us otherwise is very helpful."

The handmade local small-batch goods retailer does not only sell goods, they also provide a place for the community to gather, learn new skills, and support other local shops by providing retail space in their location.

Sommer's business has been able to make a fast transition into online shopping, but it has been a bumpy ride learning as they go the best practices for shipping products and the ins and outs e-commerce. With Texas reopening retail stores at limited capacity, that brings its own set of challenges.

"We're ready to continue on as is, but it is a great relief to open physically," Sommers says. "However, we need to have some sort of guidelines for the opening to make sure that we can open safely."

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Building Houston

 
 

Seven startups walked away with cash prizes from this year's MassChallenge accelerator program in Houston. Photo via Getty Images

MassChallenge named its winners of its 2020 accelerator at a virtual event on October 22. The program awarded a total of $200,000 in equity-free prizes across seven startups from its second Houston cohort.

This year's program took place completely virtually due to the pandemic. Already, the 56 startups involved in the cohort have raised $44.4 million funding, generated $24 million in revenue, and created 297 jobs, says Jon Nordby, managing director of MassChallenge Texas in Houston, in a news release.

"This has been a year full of change, to say the least," he says. "But startups thrive in uncertain times — because they can move fast and remain agile, they are able quickly meet each new need that arises. I'm extremely proud of the startups in our 2020 cohort — during the course of the program, they've pivoted, adjusted, and evolved in order to grow their businesses."

The startups that won across the Houston cohort included Houston-based PATH EX Inc., which won the $100,000 Diamond Award, is focused on the rapid diagnosis and treatment of sepsis through an unique pathogen extraction platform.

Four companies won $25,000 Gold Awards:

  • Healium, based in Columbia, Missouri, is an extended reality device created for self-management of anxiety.
  • Ozark Integrated Circuits Inc., based in Fayetteville, Arkansas, specializes in problem solving using technology and software in the harshest environments – from jet engines to earth orbit.
  • PREEMIEr Diagnostics, based in Southfield, Michigan, created a way to identify which premature infants need an adjustment to their glucose levels to prevent them from losing vision.
  • Scout Inc., based in Alexandria, Virginia, is developing the first commercial in-space satellite inspection service.

Two companies won the Sidecar Awards, securing each a $25,000 Innospark Artificial Intelligence Prize.

  • Articulate Labs, based in Dallas, makes mobile, adaptive devices to help knee osteoarthritis and knee replacement patients rehabilitate on the go during everyday activity.
  • Houston-based Starling Medical has tapped into tech to optimize urinary catheter for patients with neurogenic bladder dysfunction.
The Houston Angel Network awarded Ozark Integrated Circuits their prize of $50,000.
"The progress these entrepreneurs made in just a few months has all of the hope, drama, anticipation, and optimism of seeing dawn break after a particularly difficult night," says Wogbe Ofori, Principal at 360Approach and a MassChallenge mentor, in the release. "It's fulfilling, actually, and makes me proud to be a MassChallenge mentor."
The seven startups were awarded alongside 27 other startups from this year's Austin, Boston, and Rhode Island accelerators at the virtual event. The event was hosted by Chris Denson of Innovation Crush, and featured a fireside chat between Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, and Linda Pizzuti Henry, managing director at the Boston Globe.
Earlier this fall, MassChallenge named its 10 startup finalists, whittled down from 56 from 13 countries and 13 states to its first-ever virtual accelerator, which began in June.

"In the face of great uncertainty, MassChallenge Texas in Houston charged forward and did exactly what they ask their startups to do: love the problem," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "The successful pivot to virtual is a testament to the strength of their global community and the motivation of the Houston ecosystem to get behind new ideas and create businesses that will set roots and grow here.

"As one of the most innovative cities, Houston is a place where startups can thrive – even in the midst of a pandemic. Programs like MassChallenge provide the best practices and networks to ensure startups get the access they need to create sustainable businesses and lasting change."

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