The latest Houston cohort for gBETA has been announced. Photo courtesy of gBETA

The sixth Houston cohort for global startup accelerator and investor gener8tor's gBETA program is underway, and five Houston early-stage companies have joined the program.

The no-equity program, which is based out of the Downtown Launchpad, kicked off in September and lasts seven weeks. In that time, the startups are connected to a national network of mentors, customers, corporate partners, and investors.

“This gener8tor Houston cohort is among our strongest yet,” says Robert Pieroni, director of Economic Development at Central Houston Inc., in the news release. “We are excited about the caliber of entrepreneurs the Downtown Launchpad is attracting and the entrepreneurial ecosystem being created.”

The program concludes at a public showcase event at 5 pm on November 17 at Amegy Bank Courtyard.

“I’m thrilled about this cohort,” says Muriel Foster, gBETA Houston director, in the release. “We’ve seen the incredible economic impact of the gBETA program in other parts of the country, and we’re excited to bring that same impact to Houston.”

Here are the members of gBETA Houston's latest cohort:

CultureLancer

CultureLancer's all-in-one career-focused platform connects students at HBCUs with opportunities to gain industry-specific education and experience. CultureLancer also provides companies with the ability to source qualified diverse talent to meet their needs. CultureLancer has onboarded 30 students with each completing certification in digital marketing, closing on two contracts, and currently onboarding companies for beta testing.

EYF

EYF gamifies financial literacy education and provides children with a fun alternative to educational programming. EYF aims to teach financial literacy and economics in a fun, interactive, and applicable way. EYF is set to go to market at the end of of the year.

Oodles

Oodles automates the sales process and 24/7 customer service for e-commerce retailers through a conversational AI chatbot. Leveraging AI and machine learning, Oodles chatbot results in significant cost savings for retailers and improves customer retention and loyalty. Oodles has currently raised a seed round of $280,000, launched the product, and onboarded 10 customers.

SafetyKay

SafetyKay LLC promotes safety awareness to young children. SafetyKay focuses on decreasing fatality and accident rates among children ages 5-12 years by teaching them critical health and safety skills. SafetyKay's current safety awareness material has been viewed 81,359 times and it is currently in the process of transitioning into a mobile app platform.

Stobridge Education Inc.

Stobridge Education Inc. connects students with mentors and postsecondary education college, career and life resources for better outcomes. Through its comprehensive and fully integrated web and mobile platform, Stobridge Education is a safer alternative to LinkedIn for high school students. Stobridge Education has engaged with over 1,000 participants through their nonprofit partner, Adeiur and has implemented its module curriculum in two universities and four student-serving organizations.

Steffie Tomson founded a company to prioritize comfort — without sacrificing style — for women on the go. Photo via getawaysticks.com

Houston neuroscientist turned startup founder takes steps toward comfier shoes

well heeled in comfort

Two and half years ago, native Houstonian Steffie Tomson ordered $2,000 worth of shoes and sliced them all in half with a bandsaw just to see what was inside.

Tomson, a neuroscientist by trade and the founder and CEO of footwear startup Getaway Sticks, had an idea for a different kind of shoe — one that was redesigned to prioritize women’s comfort.

“I thought, ‘why can’t we start with a sneaker material and then build a heel around it?’” she tells InnovationMap. “I started just slicing everyone else’s shoes and now I’m more convinced than ever that our shoe is different.”

Tomson was inspired to design the inaugural shoe for Getaway Sticks after her own struggle with heels, walking in the bustling Texas Medical Center from building to building for meetings. As a mom of two and a problem solver, she knew there had to be a better mousetrap.

“No other shoe offers this type of foam with the height that we offer it,” she says of the wedge-style shoe, which offers a wide toe box, soft suede material and limited height for stability and joint health.

The comfortable wedge is available in several colors. Photo via getawaysticks.com

With her scientist background, she would think about the “cognitive cycles” that get spent in dealing with schedules and matching corresponding footwear.

“’This shoe goes with this outfit, but does this shoe get me from this meeting back from the parking lot? Does it fit with the pant?’ It’s just an infinite decision tree of how to get your wardrobe aligned with the shoes — when all I ever wanted was a capsule collection of shoes that would just work for me all the time,” she says.

Typically, the fashion industry constructs shoes in a very traditional way, she says, and because of this, Tomson was met with much resistance from manufacturers to get the right materials for her prototype.

“I think there’s a lot of money that gets thrown around trying to get women to buy shoes,” says Tomson. “Those may or may not be comfortable. There’s just not enough being poured into getting women to buy shoes that’s really been designed for us with us in mind.”

Getaway Sticks went through the gBETA accelerator last spring, which helped springboard the company and connect Tomson with the local innovation ecosystem.

“There aren’t many people who are making shoes in Houston, but there’s a lot of support for cool ideas and novel thinking here,” she says. I’m glad that I’ve been made aware of them and invited into these groups.”

Now past its first pre-seed phase and prepping for its initial round of seed funding in 2023, Getaway Sticks is looking ahead at its next shoe launch in the coming months — the ballet flat.

“I think that we as women can identify with the fact that we all have a really beautiful pair of heels and they are almost certainly not going to be comfortable,” she says. “And we may have a really comfortable pair of heels, but they are not always the cutest thing in our wardrobe. We always have to kind of flip and decide. I just felt strongly that we needed something to make our lives simpler.”

The latest cohort from gBETA Houston has been announced and is currently underway at the Downtown Launchpad. Photo courtesy

Early-stage startup accelerator names latest Houston cohort, new local leader

new to Hou

A national startup accelerator has announced its fifth local cohort, which includes five Houston companies participating in the spring 2022 class.

Madison, Wisconsin-based gener8tor has announced today the five participating startups in gBETA Houston. The program will be led by Muriel Foster, the newly named director of gBETA Houston, which originally launched in Houston in 2020 thanks to a grant from from the Downtown Redevelopment Authority.

The program, which is designed to help guide early-stage startups find early customer traction, connect with mentors, and more, is based in the Downtown Launchpad, and is free and does not take equity in the participating companies. The cohort kicked off on April 21 and concludes on June 10.

The new cohort includes:

  • Founded by CEO Steffie Thomson a year ago, Getaway Sticks has designed a shoe that gives women the painless support they need using athletic foam to create a shoe that gives women the painless support they need. Getaway Sticks provides the solutions to women’s #1 wardrobe complaint of high heel pain. Since launch, the company has earned over $35,000 in revenue from over 150 customers.
  • Through a combination of software and hardware technology, LocBox is rethinking the shopping experience for online and local purchases. If you shop, ship, or have food delivered to your house, LocBox will make your life easier. Led by CEO Sterling Sansing, LocBox has previously participated in the Texas A&M MBA Venture Challenge.
  • SpeakHaus is focused on equipping young professionals and entrepreneurs with public speaking skills through its on-demand training platform and group coaching program. Since launching in October 2021, SpeakHaus has facilitated 6 corporate trainings and coached 61 business leaders generating over $49,000 in revenue. The company is led by CEO Christa Clarke.
  • Led by CEO LaGina Harris, The Us Space is creating spaces intentionally for women of color, women-led businesses, and women-centric organizations. Since launching in June 2021, The Us Space has created partnerships with more than a dozen community organizations, sustainable businesses, and organizations creating positive economic impact in the City of Houston.
  • Founded in August 2021, Urban Eatz Delivery is a food delivery service app that caters to the overlooked and underrepresented restaurants, food trucks, and home-based food vendors. Urban Eatz Delivery has earned over $88,000 in revenue, delivered to over 2,000 users, and worked with 36 restaurant and food vendors on the app. The company is led by CEO D’Andre Good.

“The five companies selected for the Spring 2022 cohort tackle unique problems that have propelled them to create a business that solves the issues they once faced," Foster says in a news release. "From public speaking, apparel comfort, and food delivery from underrepresented restaurant owners, these founders have found their niche and are ready to continue to make an enormous impact on the Houston ecosystem."

it's Foster's first cohort at the helm of the program. A Houston native, she has her master’s in public administration from Texas Southern University and a bachelor’s in marketing from Oklahoma State University. Her background includes work in the nonprofit sector and international business consulting in Cape Town, South Africa, and she's worked within programming at organizations such as MassChallenge, BLCK VC, and now gener8tor.

The program is housed at the Downtown Launchpad. The five startups will have access to the space to meet with mentors, attend events, and run their companies.

"Creating (the hub) was a little like a moonshot, but it’s paying off and contributing enormous impact to the city’s economy. The five startups selected for the gBETA Houston Spring cohort will continue that legacy,” says Robert Pieroni, director of economic development at Central Houston Inc., in the release. “As these entrepreneurs chase their dreams and create something epic, they will know Downtown Houston is standing behind them. I am so proud of what Downtown Launchpad is already, and what it will become.”

Muriel Foster, a native Houstonian, is the new director of gBETA Houston. Image via LinkedIn

All I Do Is Cook is on a mission to grow accessibility to Nigerian dishes. Image via allidoiscook.com

Unique Nigerian cuisine startup propelled by Houston accelerator heads into its next phase

cooking up growth

After completing the gBETA accelerator program and winning the grand prize in the ClearCo ClearPitch competition, Tobi Smith and Bethany Oyefeso are transitioning their small business, All I Do Is Cook, into a startup with the ultimate goal of making Nigerian food accessible to everybody.

Smith and Oyefeso came one step closer to that goal when Phoencia, a Houston grocery story, started stocking the startup's condiments in 2021. In that same year, Smith and Oyefesso joined the gBETA accelerator program. Smith described this program as being instrumental in the advancement of their company from a small business to a start up, now at the beginning of their pre-seed funding phase.

“They taught us everything about what it meant to be a start up and connected us with mentors and other individuals working in the food and beverage space,” says Smith.

It was during their time in the gBETA program that they learned about the ClearCo ClearPitch competition and would ultimately win the $20,000 grand prize.

“The last two years have been bonkers,” exclaims Smith, who started All I Do Is Cook as a blog in 2016, and grew it into a cooking business.

"When I arrived in Denton from Nigeria, I walked into Walmart expecting to find common Nigerian snacks but was surprised when I couldn’t find any so I started cooking my own food and sharing the recipes,” he says.

The pandemic and subsequent closing of restaurants sling-shotted them into overdrive where in just one year their number of total orders increased from 350 to over 2,000 which they then doubled in 2021 to over 4,000.

And if a focus on Nigerian food doesn’t already set them apart, their approach to production does. Smith shared that he and Oyefeso have focused heavily on the operations side of their business.

“We want everything to run as efficiently as possible with as little waste as possible,” says Smith. “We don’t carry an inventory. We only order as much produce as we need, and we only print as much packaging as we need. We know how much food we can produce in a week, and we use the timing and amount of orders as our indicator of when we might need to increase production.”

This focus on efficiency and mindfulness of the environment should keep them attractive to both investors and consumers alike.

“We are getting ready to kick off our pre-seed funding phase,” shares Smith, “and our goal is to get into the big supermarkets like Walmart, HEB, and Kroger.”

Tobi Smith and Bethany Oyefeso are taking their startup to the next level. Photos via allidoiscook.com

Houston-based DanceKard is focused on getting singles off the endless swiping in order to make lasting connections and relationships. Photo courtesy of DanceKard

Houston entrepreneur is flipping the switch on online dating with new app

so over swiping

Like most people who are single and looking for a relationship, Erica Sinner is familiar with the dating apps. She's swiped and messaged with men in her area, but has little to show for it other than comically lazy responses from not-so potential soulmates.

Then Sinner had an idea. What if there was a platform that encouraged meetups and group dates and limited in-app conversations? An anti-dating app platform that took users off their phones, paused endless swiping, and also gave local businesses — bars, restaurants, etc. — a chance to host events or generate new business?

Then she thought, why not create it herself? Sinner started DanceKard to fill this need within the dating app landscape. After a soft launch a couple months ago, the app has over 170 users on the platform and recently joined gBETA's early-stage accelerator program.

"I think people forgot how great an in-person meeting is whenever you're getting to know someone," Sinner tells InnovationMap. "I love the fact that dating apps have made it easier to meet people, but at the end of the day, after you spend three days or a week talking to someone and then you meet them in person, and there's just something you don't like."

Sinner explains it like reading the book before seeing the movie — everyone is going to seem better when you build them up in your head.

"I've found, personally, there are guys who I met in person who are amazing, and I just wouldn't have thought that if I saw them online first," she says.

The name is a callback to when women connected with their suitors at a local dance. Women penciled in dances with their gentlemen callers, and that's how they got to know them — through a spin around the dancefloor.

"We're the modern day version of that type of dating," Sinner says, with less dancing but right in line with generating in-person conenctions.

A proud Houstonian, Sinner, whose background is in commercial real estate, was interested in bringing in local businesses from the start. DanceKard has several different offerings — all geared at driving in-person connections. Users can join the app to find events — not necessarily singles-specific events, although those are an option, but meetups where you know a certain number of singles will be in attendance.

"We focus a lot on group dating," Sinner explains. "That's something nobody does."

Singles, along with their single friends, can indicate on the app that they are interested in four, six, or eight-person dates, and see if their are other groups of friends looking to connect.

DanceKard also provides discounts and deals at its business partners' establishments. This drives business while also making deciding where to meet up a lot easier — and affordable.

"Everyone knows dating can get expensive — especially for the guys," Sinner says. "So, daters can go out on these dates and use a discount."

At the end of the day, DanceKard and Sinner are laser focused on creating relationships for their users. Modern dating has been defined by swiping on apps or drinking in bars, but that doesn't have to be your only options. DanceKard's events and opportunities will be more than just at bars — users can meet at the museum or the zoo and have an activity to connect with others over.

"People are looking for things other than drinking," she says. "They're realizing that if they are going to a bar where there are singles, that doesn't equate to a relationship."

For now, she's also focused on her hometown of Houston and is really being intentional about supporting local businesses and Houstonians themselves.

"Houston is a great opportunity," she says. "It's not about me, it's about this town. We have great people and great businesses."

Here's what companies are in the latest cohort for gBETA. Photo courtesy of gBETA

Early-stage accelerator announces 5 startups to its fall 2021 Houston cohort

ready to grow

An early-stage accelerator has picked its latest cohort of five Houston companies.

The Fall 2020 cohort of gBETA Houston includes:

  • AllIDoIsCook is founded by Tobi Smith and focused on exposing the world to Africa's cuisine by manufacturing gourmet food products delivered directly to customer doors and available at grocers. Since launching, AllIDoIsCook has built out a manufacturing facility, shipped over 8,000 boxes and generated $1.1 million in revenue all without outside funding.
  • Chasing Watts makes it easy for cyclists to coordinate or find rides with fellow riders in their area with its web-based and native application. The company has over 3,000 users and grew 135 percent from Q2 to Q3 in new ride views.
  • DanceKard, founded by Erica Sinner, is a new dating platform that connects individuals and groups with one another by bringing the date to the forefront of the conversation and making scheduling faster and easier with special promotions featuring local establishments. Since launching in August of 2021, DanceKard has over 170 users on the platform.
  • Dollarito is a digital lending platform that helps the low-income Hispanic population with no credit history or low FICO score access fair credit. Founded by Carmen Roman, Dollarito applies AI into banking, transactional and behavioral data to evaluate the repayment capability more accurately than using FICO scores. The company has1,000 users on their waitlist and plans to beta test with 100 or more customers in early 2022.
  • SeekerPitch, founded by Samantha Hepler, operates with the idea that jobseekers' past job titles and resumes are not always indicative of their true capabilities. Launched last month, SeekerPitch empowers companies to see who jobseekers are as people, and get to know them through comprehensive profiles and virtual speed interviews, and the company already has 215 jobseekers and 20 companies on the platform, with one pilot at University of Houston and three more in the pipeline.

The companies kicked off their cohort in person on October 18, and the program concludes on December 14 with the gBETA Houston Fall 2021 Pitch Night. At this event, each company will present their five-minute pitch to an audience of mentors, investors, and community members.

"The five founding teams selected for our gBETA Houston Fall 2021 cohort are tackling unique problems they have each experienced personally, from finding access to cultural foods, fitness communities and authentic dating experiences to challenges with non-inclusive financing and hiring practices," says Kate Evinger, director of gBETA Houston, in the release. "The grit and passion these individuals bring to their roles as founders will undoubtedly have a tremendous impact in the Houston community and beyond."

The accelerator has supported 15 Houston startups since it launched in Houston in early 2020. The program, which is free and hosted out of the Downtown Launchpad, is under the umbrella of Madison, Wisconsin-based international accelerator, gener8tor.

"Downtown Launchpad is an innovation hub like no other, and I am so proud of what it is already and what it will become," says Robert Pieroni, director of economic development at Central Houston Inc., in the release. "The five startups selected for the gBETA Houston Fall 2021 cohort are exploring new challenges that can become high-impact Houston businesses."

gBETA announced its plan to launch in Houston in September 2019. The program's inaugural cohort premiered in May and conducted the first program this summer completely virtually. The second cohort took place last fall, and the third ran earlier this year.

"These founders are building their companies and benefiting from the resources Downtown Launchpad provides," Pieroni continues, "and the proof is in the data – companies in these programs are creating jobs, growing their revenues and exponentially increasing their funding, which means these small starts up of today, working in Downtown Launchpad, are growing into the successful companies of tomorrow."

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston startups raise funding, secure partnerships across space, health, and sports tech

short stories

It's been a new month and a few Houston startup wrapped up November with news you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, three Houston startups across health care, space, and sports tech have some news they announced recently.

Houston digital health company launches new collaboration

Koda Health has a new partner. Image via kodahealthcare.com

Houston-based Koda Health announced a new partnership with data analytics company, CareJourney.

"This collaboration will aim to develop benchmarking data for advance care planning and end-of-life metrics," the company wrote on LinkedIn. "Koda will provide clinical and practice-based expertise to guide the construction of toolkits, dashboards, and benchmarks that improve ACP programs and end-of-life outcomes."

Koda Health announced the partnership in November..

“Beyond the checkbox of a billing code or completed advance directive, it’s important to build and measure a process that promotes thoughtful planning among patients, their care team, and their loved ones,” says Desh Mohan, MD, Koda's chief medical officer, in the post.

CareJourney was founded in 2014 in Arlington, Virginia.

"I'm hopeful next-generation quality measures will honor the patient’s voice in defining what it means to deliver high quality care, and our commitment is to measure progress on that important endeavor," noted Aneesh Chopra, CareJourney's co-founder and president.

Sports tech startup raises $500,000 pre-seed investment

BeONE Sports has created a technology to enhance athletic training. Photo via beonesports.com

Houston-founded BeONE Sports, an athlete training technology company, announced last month that it closed an oversubscribed round of pre-seed funding. The company announced the raise on its social media pages that the round included $500,000 invested.

Earlier in November, BeONE Sports completed its participation in CodeLaunch DFW 2022. The company was one of six finalists in the program, which concluded with a pitch event on November 16.

Space tech company snags government contracts

Graphic via cognitive space.com

The U.S. Air Force has extended Houston-based Cognitive Space’s contract under a new TACFI, Tactical Funding Increase, award. According to the release, the contract "builds on Cognitive Space’s work to develop a tailored version of CNTIENT for AFRL to achieve ultimate responsiveness and optimized dynamic satellite scheduling via a cloud-based API.

The $1.2 million award follows a $1.5 million U.S. Air Force Small Business Innovation Research award that the company won in 2020 to integrate CNTIENT with commercial ground station providers in support of AFRL’s Hybrid Architecture Demonstration program.

“The TACFI award allows Cognitive Space to continue supporting AFRL’s vitally important HAD program to help deliver commercial space data to the warfighter,” says Guy de Carufel, the company’s founder and CEO, in the releasee. “CNTIENT’s tailored analytics platform will enable HAD and the GLUE platform to integrate modern statistical approaches to optimize mission planning, data collection, and latency estimation.”

Houston airport powers up new gaming lounge for bored and weary travelers

game on and wheels down

Local gamers now have a new option to while away those flight delays and passenger pickup waits at Hobby Airport.

Houston's William P. Hobby Airport is now one the first airports in the country to offer what's dubbed as the "ultimate gaming experience for travelers." The airport has launched a premium video game lounge inside the international terminal called Gameway.

That means weary, bored, or early travelers can chill in the lounge and plug into15 top-of-the-line, luxury gaming stations: six Xbox stations, five Playstation stations, four PC stations, all with the newest games on each platform. Aficionados will surely appreciate the Razer's Iskur Gaming Chairs and Kraken Headsets, along with dedicated high speed internet at each PC station.

The Gameway lounge pays homage to gaming characters, with wall accents that hark to motherboard circuits Crucial for any real gamer: plenty of sweet and savory snacks are available for purchase to fuel up on those fantasy, battle, or sporting endeavors. As for the gaming console stations, players can expect high definition screens, comfortable seating, and plenty of space for belongings.

Make video games a part of your pre-flight ritual. Photo courtesy of Gameway

This gaming addition comes just in time for the holiday rush, when travelers can expect long lines, delays, and are already planning for extended time for trips. As CultureMap previously reported, Hobby will see a big boost in travelers this season — the largest since 2019. Now, those on a long journey can plug in, decompress, and venture on virtual journeys of their own.

Texan travelers may be familiar with Gameway; the company opened its first two locations at Dallas Fort-Worth Airport. The buzzy lounge an industry wave of acclaim: Gameway was awarded Best Traveler Amenity in 2019 at the ACI-NA Awards and in 2020, voted “Most Innovative Customer Experience” at the Airport Experience Traveler Awards, per press materials.

Two new locations followed in 2021: LAX Terminal 6 and Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The first of Gameway's Ultra lounge brand opened in September at Delta's Terminal 3 in LAX.

Gaming culture is a way of life in the Bayou City , which hosts Comicpalooza, the largest pop culture festival in Texas, and is home to several e-sports teams, including the pro esports squad, the Houston Outlaws.

A delayed flight never seemed so ideal for gamers flying out of Hobby. Photo courtesy of Gameway

“Gameway is the real reason to get to the airport early,” said Co-Founder Jordan Walbridge in a statement. “Our mission is to upgrade the typical wait-at-the-gate experience with a new stimulating, entertaining option for travelers of all ages.”

Here's guessing Hobby might just see an increase in missed or late flight arrivals — as travelers simply must beat those big bosses, solve puzzles, or win sports matches in the lounge.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.