Support Houston startups by shopping local this holiday season. Photos courtesy

The holidays are fully upon us, and in the spirit of giving, why not give a little business to local startups as you shop for friends and family this year?

Browse this year's roundup of Houston startup-created gift ideas below, and then click here to check out last year's gift ideas too for eight more options for you.

Low-carb treats from ChipMonk Baking

Give the gift of healthy desserts with ChipMonk Baking. Photo via chipmonkbaking.com

Houstonians David Downing and Jose Hernandez were tired of having such limited options when it came to finding healthy dessert alternatives. So, they founded ChipMonk Baking, a local, mail-order bakery that creates treats using monk fruit and allulose, a low-calorie (0.4 calories per gram) rare sugar that's found naturally in foods such as raisins, dried figs, and kiwi. Hernandez began developing ChipMonk's recipes to satisfy his taste for cookies after being diagnosed with type-2 diabetes.

An online business, ChipMonk offers every snacks from cookies and bites to mixes and sweeteners. There are also a few bundles to choose from as well as a free, downloadable holiday cookbook

Skin-healthy athletic wear from Élastique

Emeline Kuhner-Stout, founder of Élastique Athletics, wanted to create a product that was easy to wear and benefitted lymphatic health. Photo courtesy of Élastique Athletics

Moms know how to make the most of their time, and that's exactly how Emeline Kuhner-Stout came across the idea for Élastique Athletics, a clothing line that promotes skin health and reduces cellulite.

"We did some research, and found that the best way to improve the appearance of your skin and move those fluids — because the cause [of cellulite] is really about those fluids that get trapped under your skin and cause a lot more negative effects other than skin appearance," Kuhner-Stout previously told InnovationMap.

She learned that exercise is the best move for improving lymphatic drainage, and another option is to do it manually through massaging and with compression. After around five years of research and development, Kuhner-Stout was able to release her first product for Élastique Athletics — a pair of leggings that have MicroPerle™ micro-massage beads in the compression leggings to massage the skin when worn.

Now, Élastique has three "wellnesswear" products available online.

Support local with Sesh Coworking

Sesh's gift sets are available for pick-up or delivery. Photo via girlsesh.com

Sesh Coworking is a space founded for women, by women, and that focus extends to the company's in-store and online market. Located in Montrose, Sesh opened its doors in February and was founded by Maggie Segrich and Meredith Wheeler to fill a need in the coworking sector.

"We as women show up in our work lives as a whole person. We don't compartmentalize and forget about all the other things happening in our lives," Wheeler previously told InnovationMap. "We wanted a space that reflected that and embraced it."

While the market supports local female-owned business year round, Sesh has some special items for the holidays. The company has produced a 2020 Holiday Haute List to help users find the perfect gift as well as some gift bundles for the working women of the world. These sets and more are available on Sesh's online store.

Stylish sanitizers from Cobalt

Cobalt's gift set comes with a bottle of each of the company's three FDA-approved cleaning products. Photo via cobaltclean.com

This year's pandemic inspired new products and companies aplenty, and one of them here in Houston is Cobalt founded by Houstonians Molly Voorhees and Christina Milligan. Their hand sanitizing and surface cleaning products blend the importance of cleanliness and safety with the added value of accessibility and a refined appearance.

As working parents of young children, the two women wanted to create a line of sanitizing products that boosted their confidence in the safety of their environments amid a pandemic and that they'd be proud to pull out of their purse on short notice.

"Cleaning products are in your bathroom or are in an ugly looking bottle or the back of our restaurant in massive chemical containers. There is really nothing for the on-the-go market," Voorhees says.

The company sells six FDA-approved sanitizers, sprays, keychains, and to-go kits that eliminate 99.9 percent of bacteria and viruses in easy to access, personal-sized, contemporary bottles, ranging from $14 to $30. The products are designed to be free of harsh, alcoholic odors and come in scents like peppermint and bubble gum.

The gift set, which is available online for $50, includes a bottle of hand sanitizer, surface spray, and mask refresher.

Humidity-conscious women's workwear from Cotidie

Cotidié's fabrics are lightweight and moisture wicking — similar to exercise clothing — making the pieces conducive to the Houston heat and humidity. Lauren Marek/Cotidié

Other than during Houston's brief winter, rocking a professional wardrobe is tough in humidity that is so iconic to Houston. Local entrepreneur Kristina Haag founded Cotidié to design clothes with this struggle in mind.

"With Cotidié, it is all about the functionality of the clothing," Haag previously told InnovationMap. "It is more traditional items, but the use of technical fabrics is our differentiating factor."

The online retailer, which launched in June 2019, offers dresses, jackets, pants, skirts, and tops, ranging between $60 and $200 in price. The fabrics, sourced from Italy and Taiwan, provide breathable comfort, along with an elastic, structured fit for a more tailored look. All items are moisture wicking and machine washable.

"Everything we use on the line is athletic technical fabric that you would typically find in workout attire, but I've repurposed these fabrics to use in a contemporary womenswear line," Haag tells InnovationMap. "I wanted to create a more foundational capsule clothing collection that women can draw their own inspiration from."

The full collection is available online, as are gift cards.

Bonus: 8 more gift ideas from Houston startups

From after-alcohol relief to a smart pillbox, these Houston-founded companies have innovative holiday gifts to offer. Images via Instagram

Here are eight more ideas for gifts made by Houston startups. Click here,

Matthew Costello, Kristina Haag, and Greg Wright are this week's Houston innovators to know. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

It's the penultimate Monday of 2019, which means it's also the penultimate roundup of Houston innovators to know this week.

Today's featured innovators include an entrepreneur revolutionizing the maritime shipping industry, a fashion designer striving for comfort in Houston's long summers, and a startup advocate shining a spotlight on cybersecurity.

Matthew Costello, co-founder and CEO of Voyager

Matthew Costello Voyager

Houston-based Voyager, co-founded by Matthew Costello, has created a software solution for inefficient communication practices of the maritime shipping industry. Photo courtesy of Voyager

While in business school, Matthew Costello could not kick the thought of all the inefficiencies within the maritime shipping industry. He asked a friend, Bret Smart, to help him look into some of the logistical communications issues within the industry. The two co-founders of Houston-based Voyager started asking some questions for all the different parties involved in shipping across seas.

"The data we got back was pretty alarming," Costello says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It basically showed that whoever you speak to in the maritime industry, people are spending about 40 percent of their day on what we would consider low-value, low-complexity tasks." Read more and stream the podcast here.

Kristina Haag, founder of Cotidíe

Kristina Haag worked a corporate job that required her to run around Houston. She thought of her new fashion line out of wanting stylish clothes conducive to Houston's climate. Lauren Marek/Cotidié

Houston is a humid subtropical climate — the majority of the year brings hot and sticky weather. Local entrepreneur Kristina Haag found herself struggling to find traditional clothing that is comfortable in the Texas heat, so she created it herself.

"With Cotidié, it is all about the functionality of the clothing," says Haag, founder of the clothing line Cotidié. "It is more traditional items, but the use of technical fabrics is our differentiating factor."

The online retailer, which launched in June 2019, offers pieces specifically tailored for women who are up against Houston's hot and muggy climate. Read more here.

Greg Wright, founder of Hatch Pitch

Houston-based Hatch Pitch will host two competitions in spring of 2020 — one marks the return of the competition to the Bayou City. Photo courtesy of Hatch Pitch

For eight years, Greg Wright has been organizing a SXSW pitch competition in Austin for startups from around the world that are using technology to improve life. In 2020, Wright is bringing Houston-based Hatch Pitch back into the Bayou City — a goal he's had for a while — for a new cybersecurity-focused event.

"Many people know us as being associated with Austin and SXSW, but not many people know us as being based in Houston," Wright tells InnovationMap. "There's been a big push to bring Hatch back to Houston, and what we've been struggling with is finding the right vehicle."

After Hatch Pitch Summit returns to Austin for its ninth year on March 16, Cyber Hatch will be hosted by the annual Houston Cyber Summit on April 28. Read more here.

Cotidié's fabrics are lightweight and moisture wicking — similar to exercise clothing — making the pieces conducive to the Houston heat and humidity. Lauren Marek/Cotidié

Local entrepreneur designs fashionable clothes with Houston's heat and humidity in mind

h-town workwear

Houston is a humid subtropical climate — the majority of the year brings hot and sticky weather. Local entrepreneur Kristina Haag found herself struggling to find traditional clothing that is comfortable in the Texas heat, so she created it herself.

"With Cotidié, it is all about the functionality of the clothing," says Haag, founder of the clothing line Cotidié. "It is more traditional items, but the use of technical fabrics is our differentiating factor."

The online retailer, which launched in June 2019, offers pieces specifically tailored for women who are up against Houston's hot and muggy climate.

The line offers dresses, jackets, pants, skirts, and tops, ranging between $60 and $200 in price. The fabrics, sourced from Italy and Taiwan, provide breathable comfort, along with an elastic, structured fit for a more tailored look. All items are moisture wicking and machine washable. The line uses three different fabrics: LunAir, 88 percent polyester and 12 percent spandex; SolaSmooth, 73 percent nylon and 27 percent elastane; and StellaForm, 59 percent nylon and 41 percent elastane.

"Everything we use on the line is athletic technical fabric that you would typically find in workout attire, but I've repurposed these fabrics to use in a contemporary womenswear line," Haag tells InnovationMap. "I wanted to create a more foundational capsule clothing collection that women can draw their own inspiration from."

Haag, originally from Houston, studied history and business at Rice University before moving to London to attend the British School of Fashion. Following a few years of work at a London-based fashion PR firm, she returned to Texas. Haag was working a corporate job that required extensive job-site visits.

"I thought, how is there not more stylish women's clothing on the market that is comfortable and functional," says Haag.

The name Cotidié, which means "daily" or "every day," encompasses Haag's desire to create clothing that can be worn at work, for travel, on weekends, and more. Haag was determined to find comfortable professional clothing that held up in Houston's heat and humidity and created Cotidié to bridge the gap between technical performance wear and business attire, introducing a new kind of clothing for stylish women on the go.

Kristina Haag worked a corporate job that required her to run around Houston. She thought of her new fashion line out of wanting stylish clothes conducive to Houston's climate. Lauren Marek/Cotidié

Haag worked for over a year testing different fabrics and designing each piece to blend feminine style with technical performance. Haag works with Sew Pro Production, an apparel manufacturer based in Houston to develop the pieces.

For Cotidié's fall and winter line, which launched in October 2019, Haag adapted the pieces for cooler weather as the temperature shifts.

Haag plans to expand the marketing of Cotidié to a national scale in the next year. The company currently has two employees and has plans to begin fundraising efforts in 2020. The company currently ships internationally.

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Houston SaaS startup raises $10M to keep up with customer growth

money moves

A Houston software company has announced its latest funding.

Liongard, an IT software provider, has raised an additional $10 million led by Updata Partners with contribution from TDF Ventures — both existing investors in the company. The funding, according to a news release, will go toward providing the best customer service for Liongard's growing customer base.

The technology is providing managed service providers, or MSPs, improved visibility across the IT stack and an optimized user experience.

“Since working with our first MSP partners, we’ve seen time and again the power of visibility into IT data, reducing the time they spend researching customer issues and allowing them to respond faster than their peers,” says Joe Alapat, CEO and co-founder of Liongard, in the release. “This investment enables us to continue to achieve our vision of delivering visibility into each element of the IT stack.”

The company has about 2,000 partners in support of more than 60,000 end customers. And has been recognized as a top employer by Forbes and Inc. magazine earlier this year.

“We are excited to deepen our commitment with Liongard,“ says Carter Griffin, general partner at Updata, in the release. “With its leading data platform for MSPs we expect continued fast-paced growth.”

Liongard's last funding round was in May of 2020 and was a $17 million series B round. Both Updata Partners and TDF ventures were involved in that round. The company's total funding now sits at over $30 million.

Rice University rises to No. 1 spot in new ranking of best college investments

money moves

By one measure, earning a degree at Rice University is the smartest move in the Lone Star State.

In its eighth annual ranking of colleges and university that give students the best return on their educational investment, personal finance website SmartAsset places Rice at No. 1 in Texas and No. 10 in the U.S. It’s the only Texas school to break into the national top 10.

To determine the best-value colleges and universities in each state, SmartAsset crunched data in these categories: scholarships and grants, starting salary for new graduates, tuition, living costs, and retention rate.

While the tuition ($47,350) and student living costs ($17,800) at Rice are the highest among the top 10 Texas schools on the list, the average amount of scholarships and grants ($43,615), average starting salary ($77,900), and retention rate (97 percent) also are among the highest.

According to Rice, tuition, fees, on-campus room and board, books, and personal expenses for the 2022-23 academic year add up to $74,110. That figure, which excludes financial aid, applies to a full-time, degree-seeking student living on campus.

“Rice University is consistently ranked as a best value in higher education and is one of America’s leading teaching and research universities,” the school’s Office of Financial Aid says. “By attending Rice, you will not only receive a superior education at a reasonable cost, you also will benefit from having a Rice degree long after graduation.”

Three other schools in or near the Houston metro area appear on SmartAsset’s list of the biggest-bang-for-your-buck schools in Texas:

  • Prairie View A&M University, No. 4. The university posted the lowest retention rate (74 percent) among the 10 schools. The remaining figures sit roughly in the middle of the pack.
  • University of Houston, No. 5. The university’s tuition ($8,913) was the lowest in the top 10, as was the average amount of scholarships and grants ($6,544).
  • Texas A&M University-College Station, No. 6. The university’s living costs are the second highest among the top 10 ($17,636), while its average starting salary for new grads lands at No. 3 ($64,400).

Other schools in the state’s top 10 are:

  • University of Texas at Austin, No. 2.
  • University of Texas at Dallas (Richardson), No. 3.
  • Texas Tech University in Lubbock, No. 7.
  • LeTourneau University in Longview, No. 8.
  • University of North Texas in Denton, No. 9.
  • Texas State University in San Marcos, No. 10.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston expert addresses the growing labor shortage within health care

guest column

Long before COVID-19 became a part of our new normal, the concerns around shortages in health care staffing were present.

To put this in real terms, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the latest projection of employment through the end of this decade is an increase of nearly 12 million jobs. A fourth of those — 3.3 million to be exact — are expected to go towards health care and social assistance roles.

Before the pandemic, the concerns centered around managing a growing retired population and a slowing in higher education nurse enrollment. Then amid the growing shortage concerns surrounding the support for aging baby boomers, we were all thrusted into a pandemic.

The stressors on health care professional staffing have doubled down and what the increased shortage has shown us is the need to intervene and change the traditional hiring practices. Speed to place a nurse on assignment doesn’t just ensure productivity — it is a matter of life or death.

Over the past several years, the evolution of technology has drastically changed how health care facilities operate and interact with their employees as well as patients. There was a point in time where the structure in health care staffing was rigid without flexibility or varieties of employment type. Conversations around travel positions, per diem, and permanent are all now commonplace as the recent shortages caused us to normalize the discussion around role type and use of technology to influence speed to hire.

This whole evolution was put to test when April 2020 came, and the initial brunt of the pandemic was in full swing. The entire world was in panic mode. During these quarantine times, we were in a state of a health care emergency with thousands of patients seeking health care. Unfortunately, hospitals could not keep up with this demand with their existing nurse professionals, and became severely overloaded and dangerous. Due to this the United States saw unprecedented labor shortages, impacting a large number of nurses and health care workers as it pertains to both their physical and mental health.

What we are seeing now is a period classified as the “The Great Rethinking,” where nurses and health care workers alike are speaking up for what they believe in and deserve. Salary transparency and flexibility are just the tip of the iceberg for this movement.

SkillGigs is unique in that we are giving the power back to registered nurses and health care professionals, while meeting the demand created by the pandemic. Our team has been fortunate to be a catalyst to direct the change in the future of work, and we look forward to continuing to innovate.

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Bryan Groom is the division president of health care at Houston-based SkillGigs.