Looks like they've found their match. Photo courtesy of Stir

The 20 million single parents in the United States now have a dating app to call their own: Dallas-based dating app company Match just launched Stir, a dating app designed to connect single parents who are seeking dates.

“Where mainstream dating apps cater to the general population, single parents can often feel like outliers, and they are oftentimes overlooked on mainstream dating apps,” says Din Thi Bui, vice president of new verticals at Match. “It was important for us to intentionally design an app for the single parent community, and make it easier for them to connect with others without fear of judgment.”

The rollout coincided with National Single Parent Day. Surveys conducted by Match continually show single parents find it tough to date. In part, Match says, that’s because some single parents feel potential partners are turned off when it’s disclosed that they have children.

Bui says the Stir app is available to any single parent interested in dating other single parents, regardless of sexual orientation and other factors. When building their Stir profile, a user can set various dating preferences.

One of the app’s unique features is Stir Time, which enables single parents to more easily coordinate their schedules.

The app can be downloaded from the iOS App Store or Google Play. Upgraded versions are priced at $39.99 for one month, $89.99 for three months, and $119.99 for six months. It’s available in English, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

Matches made on Stir are based on responses to member profile questions related to hobbies, dating preferences, likes, dislikes, parental schedules, and communication preferences.

“Having kids shouldn't be a dealbreaker when dating,” Bui says in a news release. “We’re dedicated to giving single parents a dating experience where they are celebrated and feel like they can be themselves. With that, our hope is that they can truly focus on having a personal life beyond navigating parenthood.”

Match’s other dating apps include Tinder, Hinge, OurTime, and OkCupid.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

MendIt seeks to reduce textile waste by providing an easy-to-use app to make menders and customizers more accessible. Photo courtesy of MendIt

Houston startup tackles fast fashion with app that connects users to small business menders

sustainable startup

When Kaitlyn Allen’s grandmother died, she left a green sweater that Allen wanted to keep and wear in memory of her. But the sweater had a hole in it and, in a morbidly ironic fashion, the person Allen would have turned to to mend the sweater was her grandmother.

This sparked an idea for the Houstonian, who thought there might be other people out there with the same mending needs.

“We have two generations of people who don’t know how to sew,” Allen tells InnovationMap. “We did national studies to see where people fall within this, and only 4.2 percent of Americans actually take their clothes to get repaired.”

The rest of people, as one might assume, are just buying new clothes and throwing old items out, contributing to a massive — and growing — carbon footprint. Allen — who’s spent almost a decade running Global Affairs Associates, a sustainability consultancy — decided to look into just how big an impact the textile industry had.

Kaitlyn Allen, who's the founder and chief strategy officer for MendIt, has worked a decade in ESG consulting. Photo via mendit.app

“I learned about how the throw-away culture and fast fashion — the mass production of extraordinarily cheap textiles — leads to all these really humongous environmental problems,” Allen says, citing that the equivalent of a garbage truck full of textiles is landfilled or incinerated every second around the globe.

“It’s a really huge problem, but we don’t really see it in our culture,” Allen continues. “One of the simple things we can do to make an impact is to extend the life of the clothes we already own — mend them, take care of the, and don’t just throw them away after three months.”

In light of this research and the unmet need Allen saw from her own experience, she founded MendIt, a Houston startup that connects users digitally to the local seamstresses and menders. Her first idea of the company was to tap into the gig economy and “Uber-ize” the industry. But she quickly realized there was an opportunity to tap into the small businesses already working within this space. These businesses are usually not digitally savvy and usually women and immigrant-owned. While these businesses already exist, they aren’t tapping into the market need as best as they could, Allen says.

“There’s a disconnect. There’s a market of people who potentially want to mend their clothes, but there’s no easy way of finding or accessing that service,” she says. “With this next generation, you need to meet them where they are.”

And where they are, Allen says, is on their phones.

MendIt is completing a pilot program with one mender — Connect Community in Gulfton area — in partnership with St. Luke's Gethsemane on Bellaire in Sharpstown. She also hopes to tap into a local artist who can help with customization — like embroidery, for instance.

MendIt hopes to take the lessons learned from this pilot and expand within Houston before growing nationally. She’s also looking for partners — menders, retailers, and potential investors — down the road to further grow the business.

“The broader vision is to have every small business in the Unite States that does clothing repair or customization will be registered on the app so that local users can find them where they live and place orders through the app,” she says.

The MendIt app is available now as a part of the company's pilot program. Photo via mendit.app

Aaron Knape joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share how he's taking the sEATz platform into a new vertical. Photo courtesy of sEATz

Houston sportstech startup scales, plans expansion into health care

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 109

When sEATz launched, the startup was looking to provide a way for sports fans to order their beer and hotdog to their seat without having to miss a moment of a game. Over the years, the Houston company has expanded its technology to be a reliable platform for mobile order management in stadiums and arenas — and now Aaron Knape, co-founder and CEO, knows the technology can do so much more.

"We started this company with a focus on mobile ordering for sports and entertainment venues," Knape says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We've always known we wanted to get into other industry verticals, and one that stuck out, primarily because it's such a big deal in Houston, is the health care industry."

Knape says he and his co-founder, Marshall Law, let this idea be known to their vendor partners, and eventually sEATz got the right connection to a health care campus to try out a new product: MyEatz.

"What we're building now is a mobile ordering platform for these large health care campuses," Knape says, explaining that the campuses have thousands of employees with limited space and time for dining. "We're starting on our first pilots in the health care industry where we provide that mobile ordering platform and back-end support with our partner Aramark."

Among the first groups to pilot the new product is Houston Methodist, Knape says. The pilots should launch this quarter — either this month or next.

"This could be a much bigger market than sports and entertainment," Knape says. "Sports will continue to be our core market, but this will be a little less seasonal."

And, in light of the last 18 months, less averse to the effects of a shutdown of sports and entertainment. However, the sEATz team entered the COVID-19 pandemic with uncertainty — like most of the world — but the team was able to market sEATz mobile ordering platform as something crucial to bringing back fans in stadiums.

"Our goal was to go out and market ourselves and push the branding of 'we facilitate social distancing, mitigate crowds, and get rid of lines,'" Knape says on the show. "That really resonated with a lot of our clientbase."

Remarkably, sEATz even raised fresh funding amid the pandemic. In November of 2020, the startup closed an oversubscribed $1.6 million seed round led by Valedor Partners. Knape says he's currently focused on the company's to support scaling and growing the team by six or so new employees over the next few months.

"I tell the team that we're kind of coming out of stealth mode — I know we're not in a true stealth mode, but we haven't spent a lot of money on sales and marketing," Knape says. "Now it's time to start putting that emphasis on who we are, that we're here, and we're ready to take over."

Knape shares more on how sEATz is growing and the potential for Houston to build a sportstech niche within the innovation ecosystem on the podcast. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


TaskNow offers household tasks and more in Houston. Photo via Getty Images

2 Houstonians launch app that's the 'Uber for home services'

there's an app for that

Houstonians who need help with everyday life projects are now in luck. A locally based app is here to help check items off that to-do — or honey-do — list.

Cleverly dubbed TaskNow, the new app provides on-demand home services via a mobile platform, connecting local service providers to consumers.

Much like the national Thumbtack, TaskNow links skilled professionals with Houstonians to offer cleaning, moving, packing, furniture assembly, TV wall-mounting, pressure washing, on-location car-detailing, and more.

The Bayou City is Houston is the first market where providers are now available, on-demand. Importantly for wary consumers, area service providers have passed background checks in order to be part of the company's roster of task masters.

Help via TaskNow arrives on the same or next day service for most tasks; customers can also schedule the tasks for future dates and times. Creators boast a "unique upfront pricing policy" that is meant to alleviate price-haggling and hidden fee surprises, according to a press release.

"As native Houstonians, we always envisioned launching here in Houston because we love the city and its home for me and Kathryn," Paul Rao, TaskNow's CEO and co-founder tells CultureMap. Rao, an oil and gas executive veteran, launched TaskNow with entrepreneur Kathryn Josey Stone.

"As we continue to grow throughout Texas and across the U.S., Kathryn and I are especially enthused about Houston because it's a turnkey and trusted solution that serves our neighbors and the city," Rao continues.

Notably, service providers deal no advertising requirements or cost to service providers to join TaskNow, press materials note. This is different from Google, online searches, Angie's, and other "pay-to-play" advertising type platforms, founders note.

Future growth plans include statewide service, plus availability in 30 metro markets across the country by 2023, according to Rao and Stone.

"TaskNow is the only on-demand app platform featuring upfront transparent pricing, so there's no negotiating over the phone or email with multiple providers," Rao adds in a statement. "Our design and functionality are very user friendly and simple to use, with clear job descriptions and pricing. It's the Uber for home services."

Those interested can take on tasks, get pricing, and more at the official site.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

A Houston entrepreneur has created a platform that puts artists first. Photo courtesy of PickleJar

New Houston-based app tips the scales in favor of musicians and fans

tuned in to tips

Like so many business owners, Jeff James' inspiration for his innovative new music app PickleJar, came out of sheer necessity. Sitting in a bar in the buzzy Broadway district in Nashville, Tennessee, James, a serial entrepreneur, realized there had to be a better way to tip performing musicians.

"This young girl comes through the crowd carrying a Yeti bucket asking for 20 dollars for the band," James tells CultureMap. With no cash on hand, James donated via Square. "Sixty dollars later, I had so many questions: would she remember my name? Would she remember my songs? There's gotta be a better way to do this."

James, a former radio DJ and record label veteran, started scribbling his idea for a musician tipping app on a napkin. Two years later, PickleJar was sparked, James says, because "every musician we spoke to hates the way they're paid on these apps like Venmo and Facebook."

Pushing an "artist first," mission statement, PickleJar ensures that every musician utilizing the app keeps 100 percent of the money — something unheard of when James started the process two years ago. Fans donate to musicians on the app, and in turn, get five times that tip in proprietary digital currency called Pick Coins.

"If you tip 100 dollars to a musician, you get 500 Pick Coins," explains James, "that goes to buying tickets, merch, or VIP experiences on our app." Another artist-first perk: The artist also gets 500 Pick Coins in that scenario.

With its own e-commerce platform, PickleJar allows fans to use these Pick Coins for experiences, and musicians to use them for much-needed equipment. PickleJar has partnered with Austin-based Strait Music Company, which will provide musicians with instruments and gear. Musicians can create their own wish lists so that fans can directly contribute to the desired gear.

Fittingly, the company has partnered with local venues for themed nights. Buzzy bar McIntyre's Downtown will feature a tip-worthy Texas artist every Wednesday night in its PickLounge.

PickleJar also allows musicians to livestream. "On Facebook Live, data shows that only about eight to 10 percent of an artist's audience know they're live. On top of that, Facebook takes 30 to 40 percent of the tips." With PickleJar, 100 percent of an artists fans will be notified when the artists in livestreaming.

Fans can even donate directly to a musician's nonprofit of choice, something happening now during Hurricane Ida relief efforts. Numerous artists on PickleJar are raising funds for Ida assistance, James notes. "We really believe that a 'gratitude economy' is emerging," he says. "We wanted to create the easiest way possible for fans to say thank you."

That thank-you option also means fans can send direct messages, notes, and even pictures on the app, which, James acknowledges with a chuckle, could get very interesting.

Another musician-first nuance not found on other apps: PickleJar allows for "smart" splits, so that musicians are appropriately compensated for their specific contribution. An artist who wrote songs and drove the van to a gig, for example, can be funneled a higher percentage of tips than bandmates who contributed less.

James and his Houston-based tech team are also working on a TV channel on streaming devices, dubbed PickleJar Plus.

While one might be tempted to assume PickleJar is meant for those gig-to-gig, struggling musicians, James assures that the app is meant for every level, which he breaks down accordingly:

  • "Never-evers": These folks will never get signed, but use the app to get better
  • "Got talent, not signed": Artists can use PickleJar to build audiences and crowdfund
  • "I'm signed/labeled": Here, signed artists curate setlists which can be monetized via tips
  • "Idols": These artists are already brands. "Kenny Chesney can use this to make sure every dollar goes to a nonprofit," says James. Chesney's team can watch a meter, and when donations hit a specific dollar amount, Chesney can reward fans with their favorite song."

If all this seems to point to James one day managing and representing artists, James says that idea is not entirely off. PickleJar could one day be the world's biggest independent record label, he acknowledges, by the way it allows indies to promote themselves.

"We were in a meeting and the guy says, 'you're gonna change the entertainment world forever,'" James, recalls. "We hope so. We just want to build a relationship with artists — and put them first."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The new app is live on three Houston-area college campuses. Photo via campusconciergeapp.com

Houston startup addresses gaps in the gig economy with new app

there's an app for that

Two Houstonians are making student side hustles on college campuses a whole lot safer and easier.

When Madison Long and Simone May were undergraduate students at Purdue University, their only option for scoping out basic services — like getting their hair done or hiring a DJ for an event or a photographer for graduation photos — was to ask around among older students. This planted a seed of a business idea in the two women.

Now, the duo has founded Campus Concierge to provide a platform that acts as a marketplace to connect students who have skills or services with potential clients in a safe way. The company, which was a member of DivInc's inaugural Houston accelerator, launched on three college campuses this year — Texas Southern University, Rice University, and Prairie View A&M.

Campus Concierge timed its arrival to the marketplace with the reopening of college campuses for in-person instruction, knowing there would be a need for connection and access.

"Building community is so critical given the fact that it's nerve-wracking any time to ask someone for help — especially now that you are coming back to school after a year of being virtual," says Long, CEO and co-founder of Campus Concierge.

But prior to launch, all Long and May had was virtual. The duo rolled out a six-week social media campaign, which brought over 2,500 students across six different universities onto the Campus Concierge waitlist before they even stepped foot on a college campus to recruit in person.

Campus Concierge's co-founders Madison Long (right) and Simone May met in college. Photo via campusconciergeapp.com

After initial design and testing, Long and May worked on their product during their time at the DivInc. The accelerator, which was announced to launch in Houston last year, aims to build a more inclusive innovation ecosystem and focuses their work on people-of-color and women-founded businesses. Now, Campus Concierge is looking for investors, and credit DivInc for connecting them with potential VCs, angel groups, and angel investors.

"The institutional investment landscape still does rely on very traditional ways of getting in touch with investors — through intros, warm connections," Long tells InnovationMap. "We've been very lucky to be part of DivInc, who has broken down a lot of those doors and a lot of that ambiguity and created a level of transparency plus formal partnerships with folks like Mercury Fund."

The startup founding experience for Long and May has been a positive experience. Long says Houston's innovation ecosystem has been warm and welcoming.

"It doesn't feel like people are working against you or competing with you," May, the company's CTO, adds. "It feels like everyone is working together, and it is very collaborative."

As Black female founders, Long and May say they are encouraged by the diversity and camaraderie of Houston.

"Coming to a city that is so diverse, we're not the exception to everything," Long says. "There are other founders who look like us who are doing really well that we can lean on as mentors, advisers, and take notes from them. ... There is no other place we would have liked to start this platform."

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Houston doctors recognized among top creative leaders in business

winners

This week, Fast Company announced its 14th annual list of Most Creative People in Business — and two notable Houstonians made the cut.

Dr. Peter Hotez and his fellow dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, were named among the list for “open sourcing a COVID-19 Vaccine for the rest of the world.” The list, which recognizes individuals making a cultural impact via bold achievements in their field, is made up of influential leaders in business.

Hotez and Bottazzi are also co-directors for the Texas Children's Hospital's Center for Vaccine Development -one of the most cutting-edge vaccine development centers in the world. For the past two decades it has acquired an international reputation as a non-profit Product Development Partnership (PDP), advancing vaccines for poverty-related neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and emerging infectious diseases of pandemic importance. One of their most notable achievements is the development of a vaccine technology leading to CORBEVAX, a traditional, recombinant protein-based COVID-19 vaccine.

"It's an honor to be recognized not only for our team's scientific efforts to develop and test low cost-effective vaccines for global health, but also for innovation in sustainable financing that goes beyond the traditional pharma business model," says Hotez in a statement.

The technology was created and engineered by Texas Children's Center for Vaccine Development specifically to combat the worldwide problem of vaccine access and availability. Biological E Limited (BE) developed, produced and tested CORBEVAX in India where over 60 million children have been vaccinated so far.

Earlier this year, the doctors were nominated for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize for their research and vaccine development of the vaccine. Its low cost, ease of production and distribution, safety, and acceptance make it well suited for addressing global vaccine inequity.

"We appreciate the recognition of our efforts to begin the long road to 'decolonize' the vaccine development ecosystem and make it more equitable. We hope that CORBEVAX becomes one of a pipeline of new vaccines developed against many neglected and emerging infections that adversely affect global public health," says Bottazzi in the news release from Texas Children's.

Fast Company editors and writers research candidates for the list throughout the year, scouting every business sector, including technology, medicine, engineering, marketing, entertainment, design, and social good. You can see the complete list here

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Samsung sets sights on nearly $200 billion expansion in Texas

chipping in

As it builds a $17 billion chipmaking factory in Taylor, tech giant Samsung is eyeing a long-term strategy in the Texas area that could lead to a potential investment of close to $200 billion.

Samsung’s plans, first reported by the Austin Business Journal, call for an additional $192.1 billion investment in the Austin area over several decades that would create at least 10,000 new jobs at 11 new chipmaking plants. These facilities would be at the new Taylor site and the company’s existing site in Northeast Austin.

The first of the 11 new plants wouldn’t be completed until 2034, according to the Business Journal.

“Samsung has a history already in the Austin market as an employer of choice, providing high wages, great benefits, and a great working environment. All of this will be on steroids in the not-too-distant future, creating a historic boost to the already booming Austin economy,” John Boyd Jr., a corporate site selection consultant, tells CultureMap.

Samsung’s preliminary plans were revealed in filings with the State of Texas seeking possible financial incentives for the more than $190 billion expansion. The South Korean conglomerate says the filings are part of the company’s long-range planning for U.S. chipmaking facilities.

Given that Samsung’s 11 new plants would be decades in the making, there’s no certainty at this point that any part of the potential $192.1 billion expansion will ever be built.

Last November, Samsung announced it would build a $17 billion chipmaking factory in Taylor to complete its semiconductor operations in Northeast Austin. Construction is underway, with completion set for 2024. Boyd proclaimed last year that the Taylor project will trigger an “economic tsunami” in the quiet Williamson County suburb.

The Taylor facility, which is expected to employ more than 2,000 people, ranks among the largest foreign economic development projects in U.S. history. The impact of a nearly $200 billion cluster of 11 new chipmaking plants would far eclipse the Taylor project.

The Taylor factory will produce advanced chips that power mobile and 5G capabilities, high-performance computing, and artificial intelligence.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.