From a new, innovative mixed use development to food and fitness startups, here's what lifestyle innovation trended in Houston this year. Courtesy of The MKT

Innovation surrounds us, from the B2B startups designing software solutions for huge oil and gas corporations to a fitness app that allows users to safely and efficiently book private trainers.

During 2019, InnovationMap published stories on these startups, burgeoning mixed-use spaces, innovative sustainable stores, and more. Here's which of those stories readers flocked to.

Houston hangover pill startup seen on Shark Tank rebrands following multimillion-dollar raise

On his failed investor attempt on Shark Tank, Brooks Powell couldn't secure a shark investment for $400,000. Now, he just closed on $2.1 million for his startup. Courtesy of Cheers

When Brooks Powell's Houston-based startup got passed over by the investors on Shark Tank last year, he didn't let it deter him. Instead, the Houston entrepreneur buckled down and started seeking investments off the screen.

It paid off, and Cheers (née Thrive+) recently closed a $2.1 million seed round. The round was lead by NextView Ventures, which has the likes of TaskRabbit, threadUP, and Letgo among its portfolio.

With the new investment, Brooks says the company is rebranding from Thrive, its original moniker, to Cheers.

"Thrive+ doesn't really say anything about what we did or who we are about," Powell says. "We knew we needed something fitting for the alcohol industry but at the same time has the connotation of fun, responsibility, and health." Continue reading.

Massive mixed-use project to bring creative office and coworking space to the Houston Heights

The MKT expects to revolutionize the live-work-play model with everything from retail and restaurant to office and coworking space. Courtesy of The MKT

On a stroll or a spin down the Heights Hike and Bike Trail, you might not notice a complete transformation is eminent. The MKT — a mixed-use renovation and build out project — is getting ready to break ground.

The five-building, 200,000-square-foot project will bring 30 retail and restaurant concepts, and 100,000 square feet of office space together along with four acres of green space, parking, and an outdoor venue alongside 1,000 linear feet of the trail between North Shepherd Drive and Herkimer Street. The MKT name comes from the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad — later known as the Katy Railroad — that was transformed into the Heights Hike and Bike Trail. Continue reading.

5 Houston lifestyle startups changing the way you live, work, and play

From restaurant finding apps to a healthy food startup — these are the lifestyle startups to watch in Houston. Getty Images

While sometimes it seems like a lot of the Houston innovation landscape is energy and medical tech companies, there are several lifestyle-focused startups that fly under the radar. Whether it's a fizzle cocktail creator — or a cure for a hangover from said fizzy cocktail — these five Houston startups are ones to watch. Continue reading.

Houston nonprofit that's upcycling textiles and clothing opens new store

Magpies & Peacocks has prevented over 220,000 pounds of textiles in landfills by upcycling fabrics for new fashion items. The nonprofit now has a new store to keep up with demand. Magpies & Peacocks/Instagram

Magpies & Peacocks, the nation's only nonprofit design house that collects and reuses post consumer textiles, clothing, and accessories, opens their first permanent retail space in Houston on Saturday, June 1. The Co:Lab Marketplace will be located inside the organization's current warehouse space in Houston's East End.

The 6,000-square-foot space holds luxury upcycled sustainable clothing, jewelry, accessories, and home decor, along with partner sustainable and ethical brands. There will also be a bar offering cocktails and coffee, a lounge area, and a capsule gallery featuring the work of local artists.

Sustainability and avoiding unnecessary waste — coupled with fashion — are the goals of the nonprofit, which is also a part of the United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion. Continue reading.

4 fitness-focused Houston startups changing the industry

From what you wear to where you go, here are some Houston fitness startups changing the game. Courtesy of Accel Lifestyle

Houston has developed into a city full of boutique fitness studios and updated parks, and now the city is seeing fitness startups popping up as well. From creating a smell-free fabric to engaging NASA technology into training, these Houston fitness startups are working out innovative ideas into the exercise industry. Continue reading.

A Houston mom is working hard on her startup so that next summer, breastfeeding moms can swim in style and worry free. Courtesy of Orolait

New mom-designed swimwear line makes a splash in Houston

mommy made

Houston mom Ana Carolina Rojas Bastidas feels there's been an oversight in the fashion industry when it comes to women who are in the breastfeeding stage of motherhood. With her new swimwear line, she hopes to spark a movement for women's fashion.

Bastidas, founder and CEO of Orolait, launched the swimwear line in September 2018 specifically for breastfeeding individuals. Orolait, which floats the tagline "by a mama for mamas," aims to give breastfeeding individuals back the dignity they deserve with bathing suit options.

"I decided to build this company to challenge and change the way we depict one's breastfeeding journey," Bastidas says on the website. "I stand on the pillars of advocacy, education, and inclusion. You will see the sizing and advertising featuring all shapes, sizes, and shades because each of us is so different and that is what makes us so incredible and I am going to unapologetically celebrate that in the most ethical way I know how."

Bastidas, originally from Bogota, Colombia, has been blogging about postpartum body positivity on her platform PowerToPrevail since 2015, sharing her personal journey with her children.

"I was spending a lot of time by the pool and water parks with my two older children," her website states. "I had a big fear of public breastfeeding, but I had a life to live and memories to make with my kids."

Orolait currently offers four different types of bathing suits, each designed to make breastfeeding easier. The suits range from $36 per piece to $72 for a full suit. The suits are designed manufactured by MIYH Design Services, a local business owned by adjunct Art Institute of Houston professor David Dang.

Bastidas tells InnovationMap that she noticed the need for specifically designed suits after experiencing discomfort herself, explaining that traditional suits were not accommodating for swollen milk ducts with the cut and wiring. Bastidas surveyed mothers across all walks of life to see what they struggled with when finding a bathing suit and found that the list was endless. She tells InnovationMap that they got 100 responses in three days.

Her survey found that moms worried about body image, functionality, confidence, feeling fashionable, and comfort, all when looking for a bikini. It became clear to Bastidas that the current market was not working for moms and causing even more stress.

"Our goal is not to be modest," says Bastidas. "I don't believe in modesty when it comes to breastfeeding, but I do believe that people are at different levels and we need to meet them where they are at."

This past November, Orolait launched their first-ever equity crowdfunding campaign through LetsLaunch, a platform based out of Houston, with a goal of raising $250,000. The company reached 10 percent of its goal within its first few days of going life.

"Our goal is to help women who decide that breastfeeding is a journey that they would like to take, to be able to take that journey," says Bastidas. "There are so many obstacles that are already in our way biologically, that to have a lack of product be the reason why you become so discouraged is unacceptable."

Bastidas tells InnovationMap that her goal for the company is to eventually expand offerings in addition to bathing suits and move into brick and mortar retail spaces. She hopes that Orolait will be a representation of all varieties of breastfeeding journeys.

"We want to make sure we represent those moms who are never represented," says Bastidas.

Houston-based iCRYO has a few Texas franchise locations expected to open in 2019,and more coming nationwide. Courtesy of iCRYO.

Houston-based cryotherapy chain grows its national presence

Cold news

A Houston entrepreneur has taken his cryotherapy and wellness brand and franchised it from its origin in League City to upstate New York. But, that's only the beginning.

The brand, iCRYO, currently has four locations in the Houston area and one in New York, and has four more coming to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Austin, and another upstate New York location. But that's only the start, says co-founder and COO, Kyle Jones.

Jones says he was among the first in the country to see the potential for cryotherapy as a retail business. He was managing a physical therapy clinic, and they added a cryotherapy machine as a treatment for patients. Jones says he was blown away by how fast the patients were recovering — some even accelerating their healing process by 50 percent.

"I told my boss that we needed to scale this thing. This is a real business, not just an add-on for a PT clinic," Jones says.

As patients overwhelmed the small operation and as retail cryotherapy centers began popping up, Jones decided to branch out on his own. He was 24 at the time.

In 2015, he opened his first location of iCRYO in League City. Jones says he used the location to work out the kinks of his business model, since he didn't really have much to model after. One thing that was most important to Jones, with his PT background, was safety of the patients. He cared about this more than making money, he says.

"I knew first and foremost the one thing that the cryotherapy space didn't have was a certification program, which is kind of terrifying to me," Jones says. "Any therapy has some type of schooling or certification — massage therapy and acupuncture both have it. Cryotherapy even to date does not a certification to it."

He teamed up with equipment manufactures and professionals at the gas companies that handle the liquid nitrogen cryotherapy uses and they created a cloud-based certification platform for cryotherapy. He still uses that program with all iCRYO employees — everyone from the owner to the technician has to pass with a 90 percent and above.

After two years of business and settling on the company's marketing, Jones started to franchise. He sold eight locations in Houston, three have opened already. The first Austin iCRYO location plans to open in May, and three Dallas-area locations are also expected to deliver in 2019.

Jones says he is still actively looking for new franchisees, and is in talks to sell franchise rights to the entire states of Florida and Georgia, more locations in New York, San Antonio, and other cities scattered around. It's an intriguing market to franchisees, Jones says, because there's just not that much competition yet and the technology has so much potential.

"The more that people find out about it and research it, the crazier it's going to get," Jones says. "There's just no peak of people wanting to feel better."

The Bayou City has its own Blue Apron-style startup with locally sourced produce. Courtesy of The Blonde Pantry

Houston nutritionist introduces new, locally sourced meal delivery business

Farm to table

Marla Murphy, a local entrepreneur and nutritionist, has helped Houstonians make healthy decisions with her food blog and consulting company for years, but she wasn't sure she was doing enough.

"I didn't feel like I was making as big of an impact as I could have," Murphy says.

Murphy took this feeling and ran with it. She decided to relaunch her company, The Blonde Pantry, in March of last year she says to create the only local meal delivery service for the greater Houston area.

"This is a passion project to me," she says.

Growing a health foods company
While The Blonde Pantry has had meal services for a few years, Murphy says that last spring the company relaunched with a new brand and expanded product offerings.

"We are a healthy meal delivery service that offers clients vacuum sealed that meals that are prepped, weighted, marinated, and chopped," says Murphy.

The Blonde Pantry gained momentum initially from Murphy's local connections.

"I had only $3,000 in my bank account," says Murphy. "The right people came into my life at the right time."

Murphy says she was able to trade meals and barter down prices for her website, photography, and marketing to launch her company. She rented a kitchen by the hour and had little wiggle room for her profits. She credits part of the company's success to their popular Instagram page and her involvement in the Houston community.

"You can really tell we love what we do," Murphy says. "We are deep rooted in this community. I was born and raised here. My family lives here. We are growing our family here."

How it works
Murphy writes on the company's website notes that her mission is "to bring nutritious meals to busy Houston foodies who love tasty food as much as I do, but also want to be mindful of living a wholesome lifestyle."

The meal kits are ready in 10 minutes or less, Murphy says, and customers order by Thursday evenings and can either opt to have their meals delivered to their doorstep or pick up their package at The Village Gym, located off the Katy Freeway.

"We deliver everywhere within Highway 99," says Murphy, including Friendswood, Clear Lake, Dickinson, and League City."

Meals on The Blonde Pantry website include shrimp, chicken, pork, and beef skillet dishes paired with cauliflower, carrots, squash, and other fresh vegetables; fully cooked casseroles; pre-packaged salads, soups, and smoothies; hummus; breakfast muffins; and a variety of desserts including black bean brownies and flourless chocolate almond cookies.

"Our average is meal is about $10.25 a serving," says Murphy. "We try to make it something everyone can afford, whether you're a young college girl or a 60 year-old-couple."

Murphy tells InnovationMap that her team kicks into gear first thing Friday morning once all the orders are placed, then they prepare and prep on Saturday and Sunday for a Monday delivery.

"We like to source as locally as possible," says Murphy when describing her vendors. The Blonde Pantry has two full time employees, and seven part-time kitchen workers, and three contract workers for delivery.

In addition to The Blonde Pantry meal service, their website notes offerings in nutrition consulting for corporations, groups, and individuals.

"It's not about selling meals and moving on, I want this to be a lifestyle company that is really founded and has deep roots in Houston," says Murphy.

Murphy tells InnovationMap that in the next year she hopes to expand into the retail space and find a bigger commercial kitchen to function as their own. She also hopes to partner with companies outside of food and continue to nourish lives in someway.

This West Coast used car sales platform is en route to Texas. Courtesy of TRED

Pre-owned car sales platform kicks Texas expansion into high gear

Fasten your seatbelts

A Seattle-based online car marketplace has all engines revving for Texas as the company plans its Lone Star State expansion.

TRED announced plans to expand into major Texas cities including, Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio. The startup will be live in Dallas at the end of this month, followed by the rest of the state in February.

"We very excited about Texas," Grant Feek, co-founder of Tred, tells InnovationMap.

Feek describes the company as a peer-to-peer marketplace for selling and buying used vehicles that offers sellers a thinner transaction margin and buyers a lower price point.

"[We're] combining the best of the dealer experience with the best of the market experience," said Feek.

Feek says that TRED offers the low chance of fraud of a dealership and the value of a private market.

"We are the only ones that allow you to work directly with your counter party," Feek tells InnovationMap. "There's literally no middle man."

TRED handles all the paperwork — from financing to warranties — so that buyers don't have to step foot in a DMV. The company posts their real-time performance online on the "How Tred Stacks Up" page to show how the company compares to other used car marketplaces.

"We built a platform for people that really want value," Feek says. "With the push of a button they can list it in 20 different places"

TRED services will launch in Houston next month, but the company will not have any initial employees on the ground in Texas, as Feek explains that TRED's model is focused on removing employee involvement from auto sales, which, according to Feek, is strategic. TRED is all about getting out of the way of peer-to-peer sales.

The company set their eyes on Houston due to the large population and car market. Feek tells InnovationMap that TRED will also expand into Florida in late 2019.

"It's no secret that a lot of people live in California, Texas, and Florida," says Feek, "we've always had our eyes on these states."

The idea for TRED came about in 2011. Feek says that many of his peers from Harvard, from which he received his MBA in 2009, had started their own companies and he had an interest in the automotive space. He thought that the process buying and selling cars should be simpler.

Feek was able to raise $50,000 of initial funding in New York City and the company's growth was supported by Techstars, a seed accelerator, before moving to their current headquarters of Seattle, Feek says.

"The original business model was a test drive delivery service," said Feek. "In 2015, the company in its current form really started."

Feek founded TRED alongside John Wehr in 2013, when the company launched. He shares that he now oversees the online marketplace with CTO Andrew Crowell.

Feek says the company is working on product enhancements and expanding the services TRED offers. Additional plans include growth into new and existing markets and expanding the number of partners TRED operates with. Feek mentions current partnerships with FedEx, numerous banks and credit unions for financing, Pep Boys, and Firestone.

As of January 2019, TRED is currently available in Seattle; Portland, Oregan; the greater San Francisco Bay area; the greater Los Angeles area; and the greater San Diego area.

Crityk's main goal is to be a marketing asset to restaurants. Getty Images

Restaurant-driven app focuses on Houston's food scene

order up

One night, Sumit Sikka was on a quest to find the best Moscow Mule in Santa Monica. He couldn't find anything helpful online, and when he finally did get a good recommendation, he was already done for the night.

It was through this experience that Sikka knew he wanted to make a restaurant finder app, but he wanted to do something different from Yelp or Google Reviews. On those platforms, a restaurant can get crushed by a bad review that provides false information. So, when he started getting the ball rolling on Crityk, he realized he needed to give the restaurants a voice.

"That was kind of the first big pivot," Sikka says. "First, we had an app based on user content. Then we pivoted to have content curated by the restaurant. For the first time ever, the restaurant gets to create their own profile."

The app launched on November 18 and has over 700 restaurant profiles live. There are 250 here in Houston, and 25 are clients, meaning they pay Crityk and have exclusive marketing opportunities, like promoting events — something most restaurants struggle to engage customers with.

"Restaurants do so much marketing, but they do the majority of it inside the restaurant," Sikka says. "Who's not going into your restaurant and not seeing that?"

Crityk users can log into the app and find different restaurant events around town to attend. Users can upload images of food from different restaurants. They rate the specific menu item, rather than the restaurant as a whole. Then, restaurants can link that photo to the specific menu item. Instead of comments on the picture, users can engage with hashtags. Any comments a user might have would go directly to the establishment to be resolved.

Another priority for Crityk is to have photos of every menu item the restaurant offers as well as complete dietary information. It's becoming more and more important for diners to know about vegan, gluten-free, etc. options before getting to the restaurant only to be disappointed with the selection.

Investing in Houston
While the idea came about in California, Sikka, who has a sister who lives in The Woodlands, took a trip to Houston to feel out consumer interest in the app. He hosted an event with a local restaurant and some influencers. The app kind of just exploded in town, Sikka says.

"I packed up some of my bags and decided to try here in Houston," Sikka says." It's a lot easier to get to decision makers here in Houston than in LA."

The development team is still based in India, and Crityk's co-founder, John Kegel, is still based in California. However, Sikka works out of Station Houston, something he says has been an extremely valuable. He says he's made some valuable connections through both Station and the Texas Restaurant Association.

"I think Houston is a phenomenal city to get started in. It's a big city, but it has the feeling of a small city."

Second course?
Still under two months old, the app has a lot of improvements and expansions in the works. Sikka says he wants to double the number of restaurant profiles to 500 by summer. He'd also like to grow the number of paying clients on the site, which would include more restaurants with a full photo menu on the app for users to browse.

Made for foodies

Screenshot via the Crityk app

Crityk is a free smartphone app that connects users to other users and to restaurants directly.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

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.