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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

 
 

The HTX TechList is officially launched, and the Houston Exponential team is calling for everyone to register on the site. Screenshot via htxtechlist.com

Houston Exponential has hit launch on the HTX TechList, and now startups, investors, entrepreneurial hubs, and corporations can officially opt into the data-focused and networking-enabled platform.

The HTX TechList went live yesterday, August 13, at a virtual event hosted by HX. (Note: InnovationMap was the media partner for the event.) The platform acts as a one-stop shop for Houston's innovation ecosystem. Mayor Sylvester Turner joined the stream to explain the role the platform will play in connecting the various players within the industry.

"The HTX TechList is our city's leading resource for in-depth information about Houston startups, investors, hubs, and corporations," Mayor Turner said at the event. "Within the Houston region, the HTX TechList will build the connections and density that were never before possible in such a huge spread-out city."

Another benefit to the new platform, as HX Chief of Staff Serafina Lalany says, is the data it is going to be able to provide about the ecosystem.

"We needed a centralized datasource classifying startups, investors, startup development organizations, and corporate innovators," she says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "There was not any good resource on the internet that was verified, centralized, and adhered to a data standard."

The platform, which has derived from an initiative from Startup Nation Central in Israel, has already proven its usefulness abroad and has over 70,000 monthly users. In a panel at the event, Eran Levy of Enel Innovation Hub Israel described how the tool has benefitted him and his work in scouting startups.

"The ability to have a tool to map, in our case, 8,000 startups, when we look for specific categories or a specific tech area, it helps us a lot," he says. "It saves a lot of time and effort, and, more importantly, it makes it much more effective because I reach out to the right startups."

On the panel, Barbara Burger, president of Chevron Technology Ventures and chair of Houston Exponential, echoed the opportunity for connectivity the platform will enable — but in a specific way for her organization as an investor.

"I view the TechList as the tool that's going to enable a couple of things. One is the scouts to access even more opportunities, but I think the other piece is also for co-investors in startups to be able to find us," she says, adding that while CTV has been around for a couple decades, visibility is always something they'd like to improve on.

Now that the platform is launched, anyone can join to make a profile on the site. Startups, investors, hubs, and corporations can also launch profiles that will be vetted by HX's data team.

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