The news of SheSpace's launch in Houston was among this year's top lifestule innovaton stories. Image via shespacehtx.com

Editor's note: As 2020 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. When it came to the lifestyle innovation — whether that be B2C startups or real estate — in Houston, five stories trended among readers.

5 innovative gift ideas from Houston startups

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. Click here to continue reading.

New Houston tech startup launches to streamline afterlife planning

The Postage is a new company that uses technology to help ease the experience of afterlife responsibilities for family members. Photo courtesy of The Postage

Three years ago, Emily Cisek was struck with immense grief when she lost three family members back to back. She says she learned first-hand how arduous the process of wrapping up someone's life is and how it can take away from the grieving process.

"I saw the frustrations in my family," she explains, as she grappled with the passing of both her grandmothers and her cousin's young child.

Cisek says in that moment she thought, "Wow, there's got to be a better way so that people have a resource to get a plan and walk through the process so that when you do lose someone, there is a really easy way to manage that."

Cisek's realization planted a seed and she has the idea for The Postage, a digital platform that helps collect information and digital assets in one place to ease with affair planning. Click here to continue reading.

For women by women: New coworking space to open in Houston

SheSpace is planning to open in a new mixed-use facility just south of Interstate 10 near downtown. Image via shespacehtx.com

To Stephanie Tsuru, there is strength in numbers — especially, when women are involved.

"Women coming together is powerful," explains Tsuru, the founder of SheSpace, an all-women coworking space coming soon to The Heights that seeks to build a collective community of entrepreneurs and business professionals.

Mentorship and motivation were always part of Tsuru's purpose since the start of her career. Her background in healthcare and rehab gave her insight into how powerful mindset can be in a person's growth.

"I have always been involved and really driven by motivational psychology," she says.

Her affinity for mentorship continued as she went on to coach women in her own life. With her 35 years of life experience, Tsuru feels there is "no substitute for wisdom." Her passion for cultivating relationships and inspiring other women led her to want to create an environment where women could network and learn from mentors and peers. Click here to continue reading.

Houston rent prices rise as COVID-19 impacts local housing market

Houston rents actually rose in May. Sky Noir Photography by Bill Dickinson/Getty Images

The impact of COVID-19 has not been lost on the Houston housing market, with home sales dipping and rents rising. Here's a look at the current landscape.

In May, single-family home leases were up a solid 12 percent, notes the Houston Board of Realtors. This coincided with rising Houston rents.

According to Abodo's report, the median rent for a one-bedroom unit rose 0.51 percent month-over-month to $1,179, while two-bedroom rents gained 1.24 percent to a median $1,466. While one month's numbers don't necessarily mean a rental price spike, instead of Houston experiencing a COVID-19 price recession, we are currently seeing the opposite. Click here to continue reading.

Houston entrepreneur designs clothing that benefits skin health

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

A few years ago, Emeline Kuhner-Stout, a French ex-pat, was figuring out life as a new mom in a new city. She found her new life in Houston to be sedentary and all consumed with taking care of her baby. Her only time for herself were her daily trips to the gym, and she wanted to make it worth her while.

"There were so many more things I wanted to do for myself, and I just didn't have the time," Kuhner-Stout tells InnovationMap. "It would be so much more efficient if there was a way to combine [elements] to make products that would perform for us."

She noticed at this time that people were starting to care about what they wear to the gym, and she was also looking into the causes of cellulite. Kuhner-Stout and her husband, Myron, who's a patent attorney, started doing some research and found that there weren't any products that existed at the confluence of activewear and skincare.

Élastique Athletics was born to fill that need. Click here to continue reading.

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

5 innovative gift ideas from Houston startups

shop local

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,

In honor of International Women's Day on Sunday, here are three female Houston innovators to know this week. Courtesy photos

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

In honor of International Women's Day yesterday, today's roundup of Houston innovators features three of the city's entrepreneurs.

From a French ex-pat eliminating cellulite and promoting lymphatic health to a data scientist with a growing company, here are Houston's leading ladies to keep an eye on.

Reda Hicks, founder of GotSpot Inc.

Reda Hicks created GotSpot — a digital tool that helps connect people with commercial space with people who need it. Courtesy of GotSpot

Reda Hicks is a female founder — but more importantly, she supports her fellow female founders. In a lot of ways, its another one of Hicks' side hustles.

This year for SXSW, Hicks, founder of GotSpot — a temporary space finding tool, teamed up with Denise Hamilton, founder of WatchHerWork — a professional women's resource, to create an activation at the festival on March 12 called Texas Female Founders Day, which will feature female founder-focused programming. Despite SXSW being canceled, Texas Female Founders Day will continue.

"The two of us had been to SXSW together for the past two years, and we just saw a whole where a lot of female founders were being lost," Hicks says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We can solve both of those problems by creating an experience where it's an entire day that doesn't cost attendees anything and put together a lot of different content that would be really helpful for women growing their business."

Click here to read more.

Angela Wilkins, CTO and co-CEO of Mercury Data Science

It's all a numbers game, and Angela Wilkins of Mercury Data Science is about setting up startups for success. Photo courtesy of MDS

Mercury Fund realized the power of equipping its portfolio companies with data science and artificial intelligence, and the Houston VC fund's first move was to tap data scientist Angela Wilkins to help. The efforts expanded outside Mercury's portfolio, to companies that ranged from early seed stage startups to companies that had raised over $100 million — and they wanted Wilkins' help, either with the basics of data science or execution of analytics.

"In fact, many of the more established companies were sitting on data assets with plans to build AI-enabled products but didn't have the time or people to really start that process," Wilkins says. "After helping a few companies, we realized the need was pretty deep, and bigger than the Mercury Fund portfolio."

Click here to read more.

Emeline Kuhner-Stout, founder of Élastique Athletics

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

When Emeline Kuhner-Stout was new to Houston, she was a new mom and the only times she had for herself were her daily trips to the gym, and she wanted to make it worth her while.

"There were so many more things I wanted to do for myself, and I just didn't have the time," Kuhner-Stout tells InnovationMap. "It would be so much more efficient if there was a way to combine [elements] to make products that would perform for us."

She got to thinking about creating a product that promoted lymphatic health while being stylish and wearable, so she created Élastique Athletics.

Click here to read more.

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

Houston entrepreneur designs clothing that benefits skin health

health-focused activewear

A few years ago, Emeline Kuhner-Stout, a French ex-pat, was figuring out life as a new mom in a new city. She found her new life in Houston to be sedentary and all consumed with taking care of her baby. Her only time for herself were her daily trips to the gym, and she wanted to make it worth her while.

"There were so many more things I wanted to do for myself, and I just didn't have the time," Kuhner-Stout tells InnovationMap. "It would be so much more efficient if there was a way to combine [elements] to make products that would perform for us."

She noticed at this time that people were starting to care about what they wear to the gym, and she was also looking into the causes of cellulite. Kuhner-Stout and her husband, Myron, who's a patent attorney, started doing some research and found that there weren't any products that existed at the confluence of activewear and skincare.

Élastique Athletics was born to fill that need.

Creating a solution

Photo courtesy of Élastique Athletics

After deciding to tackle cellulite, Kuhner-Stout started doing her homework. She learned that cellulite was caused by poor lymphatic drainage and subsequent water retention.

"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 says.

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.

Making space

Photo via instagram.com/elastiqueathletics

The L'Original legging launched online while Kuhner-Stout was working out of WeWork's Jones Building office. She started to realize that customers wanted to try the new type of legging on before they made the $220 investment, and WeWork didn't exactly have the try-on experience Kuhner-Stout wanted for her customers.

She opened the Élastique Athletics store in River Oaks Shopping District late last year and now hopes to use the space to bring women together, and Kuhner-Stout has had health and wellness experts in the space for events and workshops.

"I really want to build Élastique as a true wellness brand, and I think it's very important for us to interact with professionals who focus their energy and time on making women feel great," Kuhner-Stout says.

The new space is also about allowing customers to stay involved with Élastique.

"We want to turn our customers into advocates, and to do that, we have to be more than a product or brand," she says.

Growing her company

Photo courtesy of Élastique Athletics

Kuhner-Stout, who has funded her work by bootstrapping and a family and friends round, hopes to raise a seed round in the near future to continue her growth.

"We feel like we have enough data from our customers to do it right," Kuhner-Stout says on raising a round.

Élastique Athletics is also almost ready to launch its next product — a sports bra that is also optimized with the MicroPerle™ micro-massage bead technology. She also hopes to get her products into more physical spaces.

"These next few months, we are focusing on partnering with high-end spas," Kuhner-Stout says, adding that she wants people to think of her leggings more of a skincare treatment than just activewear.

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Photos: Here's a sneak peek at The Ion Houston's construction progress

eye on the ion

The Ion Houston is expected to open its doors this year, and the building's exterior is close to completion. Now, the construction team is focusing on interiors and then tenant build outs.

The 270,000-square-foot coworking and innovation hub owned and managed by Rice Management Co. is slated to be a convening building for startups, corporations, academic partners, investors, and more. The building is organized as follows:

  • The underground Lower Level will act as academic flex space with a few classrooms and open-concept desks for The Ion's accelerators, including: The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator, DivInc, the Rice Alliance's Clean Energy Accelerator, and the Aerospace Innovation Hub and Accelerator. There will also be an event space and The Ion's own programming.
  • On the first, street-level floor, The Ion's restaurant tenants will reside with access from both the greenspace as well as into the building. The Ion's first three restaurant tenants include: Late August, Common Bond, and STUFF'd Wings.
  • Additionally, the first floor will be home to a venture studio and the prototyping lab. There is additional space available for other tenants.
  • On the second floor, there will be 58,000 square feet of coworking space managed by Common Desk. Note: For floors 2 and up of the Ion, tenants will have access cards that allow them entrance. The first and lower floors will not require access cards.
  • The third floor of the building will house eight to 10 tenants each with 5,000 to 10,000 square feet of space. Chevron was announced as the first tenant and will reside on this floor.
  • On the fourth and fifth floors, The Ion will house one to two larger tenants on each level. These levels of the building were added on to the existing structure. The fourth floor features two balconies that tenants will have access to. Microsoft is signed on to have its space on half of the fifth floor.
The Ion is still planning on an open date in late spring or summer. For leasing information, click here. Scroll through the slideshow of construction images and renderings to see the progress of the building.

Exterior nears completion

Photo by Natalie Harms

The building's exterior is almost complete and kept much of the original building's facade. The new materials brought in match the existing color scheme.

Texas winery taps Houston tech company for innovative AR experience

cheers

The Lone Star State is home to a vibrant and innovative wine scene, but, just like most hospitality businesses, winemakers missed the opportunity to engage with their patrons amid the pandemic. With a new idea of how to engage its customers, Messina Hof, an award-winning Texas winery, rolled out a new tech-optimized, at-home experience.

The winery partnered with VISION, a Houston-based production group, to create an augmented reality app. Combining the efforts of Messina Hof's in-house label design team and the animation capabilities of VISION, the app took four months to design.

"It was a labor of love for both parties to be able to experiment with this; it was uncharted territory," says Karen Bonarrigo, owner and chief administrative officer of Messina Hof.

The three wines released — Emblaze (Sweet Red), Vitality (Dry White), and Abounding (Dry Red) — each tells a story through the AR experience.

"We wanted to try not only and push the technology as far as we can push it, but also try to really incorporate some heavy storytelling," says Dan Pratt, VISION Creative Director.

The idea to incorporate technology felt like a natural one to Bonariggo.

"The earth, water, and sunshine all go into developing what the profile is for each wine," explains Bonarrigo.

Each of the three wines have scannable labels that bring up a VR experience for app users. Photo courtesy of Messina Hof

VISION, who worked alongside Messina Hof to develop the project, blended the winery's rich family ties with the Old World history of winemaking.

When customers download the app and hold their camera over the label, a trailing vine emerges onto the screen and wraps around the bottle. As vines grow around each bottle, the three each visually signify a different natural element of winemaking — earth, water and the sun. As a rustic sign emerges, it prompts users to then click for recipe pairing recommendations.

Rather than a single-use experience, Messina Hof and VISION wanted to create an app that users could both engage with and learn from. The AR app allows users to view recipes and browse wines in one place.

"We knew we wanted the app to be functional for people to be able to interact with both when they're doing the AR experience, but then also to be able to continue to come back to it later," shares Bonarrigo. While AR wine labels have emerged in some California vineyards, she says, "it's definitely uncharted territory for the Texas industry."

Overseeing the food and wine pairing at Messina Hof is one of Bonarrigo's passions, so it was a natural choice to include recipes in the app. Messina Hof offers a concept called Vineyard Cuisine, coined from the Bonarrigo family cookbook, and incorporates wine in every meal at the vineyard.

"The idea of tying [the wine] to a recipe gave us the opportunity to be able to share new ways [our customers] could use wines in their everyday cooking," she explains.

She hopes the app's recipe feature will help families connect together.

"So often we get used to sitting down at the table, eating really quickly, and then moving on to the next thing, but there's so much connection that can happen with each other when we can slow down a little bit and have a conversation," she continues.

To Pratt, AR was the perfect way to emphasize and expand on the shared experience of wine.

"We wanted this to be an extension of that experience for people. You know, based on the love of wine and laughter with friends," he says.

For those who can't currently gather in a room together, Bonarrigo has hopes that Messina Hof can bring people together from afar.

"I think now more than ever the ability for our regular customers, even within Texas, to then share those wines with family members or friends that are outside the state seems more intuitive," she explains.

"We are so used to being creatures of habit in sharing our wine face-to-face with people that when we had the unexpected opportunity to not do that, we realized that we still have ways to be able to connect with customers through technology," says Bonarrigo.

She finds the "ease of access of being able to connect with them through the online web store" has kept Messina Hof in touch with customers throughout the pandemic, as well as digital happy hours and tasting events.

Messina Hof Harvest Green Winery & Kitchen, the newest location, opened in February, becoming the Greater Houston-area's largest winery. The space features an expansive tasting room and 83-foot wine bar, full-service restaurant, covered patio, two private tasting rooms, a wine production, barrel room, and wine warehouse.

"We knew that when we launched that location that we wanted to be able to have a series of wines at that location that was special, but also out of the box," says Bonarrigo.

Bonarrigo and her husband Paul have ushered in the expansion of Messina Hof over the last nine years. The family business began in 1977 when Paul's parents, Paul Vincent and Merrill, started an experimental vineyard. Messina Hof has locations in Bryan, Grapevine, Fredericksburg, and Richmond.

"This is our largest winery expansion endeavor that we've done," she says. "We wanted the wines to be extra special."

Similar to Messina Hof, companies across industries are seeking to explore interactive technologies to reach their customer base. "A number of our clients, and also new clients that we may not have been able to reach before, have certainly reached out to us to figure out new ways to reach an audience," shares Pratt.

Winemaking may be an Old World skill, but Messina Hof is excited to bring Texas wine into the future.

"So much of winemaking is science, and so much of it is art. There's always this push and pull as to which is more of a majority in the end product," explains Bonarrigo, who notes that Messina Hof has been using technology to innovate and optimize the growing process. The new AR app is a push toward bringing the experience her family loves into the homes of customers.

"This definitely gives a new talking point to wine," she says.