Florida startup Fit:Match chose Houston for its first location of its AI-enabled retail store. Photo via shopfitmatch.com

In November, on the first floor of Friendswood's Baybrook Mall, wedged between the Abercrombie & Fitch and the Apple Store, a small studio popped up. At the window, a bubblegum assortment of balloons replaced the usual spruced-up manakin, and the shop is sparse for racks of clothing.

That's because the Fit:Match studio isn't really trying to sell clothes — it's trying to help you buy them online. By fusing artificial intelligence with retail shopping, Fit:Match makes ordering clothes online more trustworthy. The writing on the walls promised to revolutionize the way that people could: "Shop what fits. Not what doesn't," reads a neon sign. The tech might not only reduce long waits for the dressing room — it could abolish it altogether.

"You never have to try on clothes again," says Haniff Brown, founder of the Florida-native startup.

The store does have a fitting room, but Brown says it's not really for trying on clothes — it's for preparing to "get fitched," the process through which the imaging tech measures a customer's body.

It's fitting that the pop-up sits next to the iPhone giant. Fit:Match uses the same 3D imaging tech as Apple's FaceID, Brown says, which blasts infrared light at thousands of dots at a user's face. Where the light bounces off, the AI technology images the person's face. The sensors at the Fit:Match studio in Baybrook Mall expand this to the rest of the body. In 10 seconds, the AI sensor lets people sketches a customer's shape through 150 measurements.

Those measurements become indicators of how well a piece of clothing will fit the wearer. In the initial phase of the project, Brown's team fitched thousands of women — wanting to keep things neat, the company hasn't ventured into men's fashion yet — and compared the scores of the AI's algorithm with how the women scored their own clothes.

Now, once a customer has been fitched at the Baybrook studio, she can log online through an app or the company site and sift through thousands of clothes that will likely fit her. Each clothing item — mostly smaller brands that range from eclectic pieces and dresses to athleisure right now, Brown says, although he's already working to partner with better-known labels — is rated with a percentage of how well it's likely to fit the individual customer, based on her measurements and on how snug or loose she likes her wear. From the array of brands, she'll get specific matches — clothes that have a 90 percent chance or higher of fitting — that might look completely different from a friend's. Over time, the app will also update her on the latest matches.

"You're going to have this personalized wallet," Brown says, adding that this will also decrease a store's rate of return. "You will see a completely truncated assortment of clothes that are meant to fit you."

The Baybrook Mall hosts Fit:Match's first location. Brown says he chose the Houston area for its size and demographics, calling it a "hotbed to test new ideas, to get traction, to get customer feedback," and is even considering expanding to the Woodlands Mall and other places around Texas, too. It's also not far from the Austin-based Capital Factory, which brought Fit:Match under its wing late last year to help the startup raise $5 million.

In the meantime, the five-member management team at Fit:Match is focused on getting more Houstonians fitched. In the first month of operations, the studio measured more than 1,200 mallgoers, and Brown says the company could fitch a quarter million in the next two or three years.

"We think that the opportunity here is immense," Brown says.

The Nap Bar offers "pay-by-snooze" rest. Photo by Dominique Monday

New Rice Village nap bar refreshes sleep-deprived Houstonians

Stay woke

Khaliah Guillory wants to put you to sleep. To clarify: She wants you to nap. And the power nap is all the rage right now. Busy workers, executives and entrepreneurs in New York, Europe, and Japan are all napping during the day — taking a short snooze that not only helps them be more productive in their daily tasks, but allows them to be healthier.

"Americans lose 1.2 million work days because of sleep deprivation," Guillory tells CultureMap. "That costs the economy $411 billion. And the Centers for Disease Control estimate that driving while you're sleep deprived is the equivalent of driving under the influence."

To counter the trends, Guillory will open Nap Bar in Rice Village. Slated for a late April unveiling, a pay-by-the-snooze napping facility will be at the back of New Living. Guillory has partnered with the company, already known for its commitment to sustainability. Nap Bar's custom-patented napping pods are designed with sound-proof materials and contain organic, nontoxic Bungaloom mattresses and bedding.

A Comfort Concierge will greet visitors and lead them to a private suite surrounded with T.L.C. There are also two shared nap pods with twin mattresses available. Naps are scheduled 20 to 26 minutes for short-term alertness, or longer, if needed. A 20-minute snooze will set you back $25, while 26 minutes run $32. (If you're looking for a full hour, that's available for $69). Sleeping pods have blackout curtains and are soundproof.

Guillory has also made the napping experience into a luxury one so Nap Bar nappers receive complimentary aromatherapy and custom brain wave therapy with every siesta. Other add-ons include, lymphatic massages, hot showers, espressos, and EarthCraft Juicery blends that are crafted from raw, healing ingredients. The all-organic experience all designed to provide gentle healing and peaceful rest.

"Our culture tells us that if you're napping during the day, you're either a kid or you're lazy," says Guillory. "But that's not true. If you take as little as 20 minutes to nap, you'll feel revitalized."

A snooze story
Guillory didn't intend to become a nap guru. Like many things in life, however, necessity became the mother of invention. While working as an executive for a Fortune 500 company, Guillory was traveling heavily, catching brief bits of shut-eye in airport lounges or her car. At one point she found herself in Richmond, with an hour and a half to kill before her next meeting in Houston. Driving straight into town would make her far too early for her appointment. There wasn't time to go home. And checking into a hotel seemed silly.

"That's when my wife said to me, Google nap spaces in Houston," she recalls. She did. There were none. And that's why she created her own. "I wanted a safe haven for people to unplug," Guillory says. "It doesn't have to be full-on sleep. It can be relaxation, meditation, whatever you need."

And far from resting on her own laurels with her business on the cusp of opening, Guillory is pursuing other nap-centric opportunities. She's looking to partner with area businesses to incorporate nap pods into their space for employees, and is planning a Nap Bar Snooze Unit, a mobile tour bus that will "roll through downtown and let people take power naps," she explains.

She generated a great deal of interest when she took her concept on the road to Bush Intercontinental Airport earlier this week, displaying the nap pod and sharing the feedback she'd received from Nap Bar's beta testers. That input is something she takes seriously; when Nap Bar debuts, it'll be with products that her testers recommended — and they had opinions on everything from the bedding to the materials used in the pod.

"I want to turn sustainable rest into sustained productivity," says Guillory. "And I think this is just what Houston needs."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Oils and scents help you relax. Photo by Dominique Monday

SeeHerWork launched its line of female-gear in September. Courtesy of SeeHerWork

Houston company aims to equally equip female workers

If the glove doesn't fit

When Jane Henry was working on her home right after Hurricane Harvey — her house got three feet of mud in it — she went to throw a board into the dumpster, and her glove went with it.

Henry says the industry standard is to recommend small and extra-small sizes for women's workwear, but as a ladies large in athletic gloves, Henry still had a good inch or so of glove at her fingertips in her workwear gloves.

"I went upstairs to my sewing room, and I ripped that glove apart and I resewed it to fit my hand," Henry says.

Other women stopped her in hardware stores to ask her about her shoddily sewn glove, and she realized this was the idea for next company. She incorporated SeeHerWork a few months later in January of 2018, and she launched her line of clothing in September, just a year after she had the idea. Based in Houston, SeeHerWork rents warehouse space in Kingwood and has its corporate office in Midtown.

Doing the legwork
Henry is no stranger to the startup game. She created her own consulting company, Xcution Inc., over 16 years ago, but she downsized the company in 2016 when oil prices took a turn. Instead, she went into Rice University's MBA program, where, ultimately, she created a network of associates that would eventually help SeeHerWork grow.

"I've been a serial entrepreneur — been trying to avoid calling myself that," says Henry. "I have two entrepreneurial parents, and I told myself I'd never be an entrepreneur, yet that's what I keep doing."

Through her business expertise and education, she knew she had to start with a one-page business plan for the company. She then took her idea to over 50 focus groups made up of 10 to 20 female workers, safety managers, and procurement managers across industries — transportation, military oil and gas, engineering, and more.

"The response was eerily similar despite the industry," Henry says.

The focus group participants were tired of the "pink it and shrink it" approach to women's workwear and equipment. They felt like if their supplies don't fit, they don't fit. Mentorship opportunities and performance are then subsequently hindered, creating a spiral effect of deterring women from entering the skilled labor workforce. This is a huge problem, considering there's the recent labor shortage with these types of jobs.

She took this information and her first prototypes to a national pitch competition to great success — and a standing ovation. Henry also connected with the Rice Angel Network, Station Houston, The Cannon, and other local innovation-focused entities.

Roadwork ahead
Henry has big plans for SeeHerWork, and is in talks with a few large entities — like the Houston Airport System, Fluor Corp., and Toyota — that have expressed interest in using her gear for their workforce. Henry also wants to expand her products and reach female workers through retail — online and in store.

"Ultimately, SeeHerWork is the Lululemon of workwear," Henry says.

SeeHerWork is focused on keeping women safe, firstly, but also encouraging more women to enter the skilled labor workforce and then work their way up the ladder.

"I don't want people to think of us as a workwear company," Henry says. "I want them to think of us as an inclusion company. Mostly because just like professional sports team, the first step is the right clothing and equipment and the second step is working to be a team and working together."

At your fingertips

Courtesy of SeeHerWork

SeeHerWork has a full line of products, from gloves and bags to safety vests and long-sleeves shirts. She's launching more products — like coveralls, pants, and footwear — soon.

Suitcase company, Tiko, raised $100,000 in its first crowdfunding campaign. Courtesy photo

Texas-based travel brand unpacks stylish and affordable luggage

Wheels up

If Marcus Segui's successful 2016 Kickstarter is any indication, people are looking for innovative ways to make traveling a little easier. With that intention in mind, Segui launched Tiko, a Texas-based travel brand shaking up the industry by providing affordable, beautifully designed, quality luggage to passengers across the world.

On November 1, Tiko rolled into the world with its signature carry-on, priced at $195, and designed to fit in overhead bins (a must for those of us who find baggage fees insulting). Available only online, the company's first bag comes with 360-degree spinning wheels, and is offered in charcoal and gray.

For the Texas-born Segui, the idea for his company was born out of one thing: he travels — a lot. After a career in finance in New York, Segui traveled to Colombia, a trip that ended up lasting three years. "I got a Spanish tutor, found an apartment, and started looking for a way to do business," Segui says. "Before long I linked up with a local investment fund who asked me to launch a real estate company for them."

"Running a business in Spanish was really hard," he jokes, and by the time Segui decided to leave Colombia, he had logged countless flights across South and Central America. The University of Texas grad eventually made his way back to Austin with a busted carry-on in tow.

"After my time in New York and South America, I decided to return to Austin for two reasons: friends and family. Every entrepreneur needs to lean on their network to get a new company off the ground," he says.

And oh how that network helped. Unable to find a carry-on replacement that was both durable and affordable, Segui got the idea for a direct-to-consumer luggage company designed to bypass retailers and thus cut the price point for the luggage in half.

Segui began development on a series of prototypes, eventually landed on Tiko's current carry-on model, and decided to launch a Kickstarter to gauge interest (and funds, of course). The campaign raised over $100,000, allowing Segui to take off with the new company.

In order to move the company into its next phase, Segui assembled a who's who team of tech talent, including former execs from YETI and Airbnb. Earlier this month, the company officially launched its first product from its coworking space headquarters in South Austin.

A few weeks into the new endeavor, it remains to be seen if the public will embrace Tiko, but its launch points to a growing trend: consumers are demanding a different travel experience. Suddenly, people are beginning to question the inconvenient, expensive, and yes, unstylish things that must be endured in order to get from one point to another.

Perhaps one day we'll return to that glamorous apex of airline travel, the time where no one wore pajamas and passengers didn't have to line up like cattle to board the aircraft. Until then, at least we can have nice luggage.

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

PopUp founders Rob Dobson, Scott Blair, Megan Silianoff, and Barry Goldware. Courtesy photo

Houston-based shopping startup flips the script on retail leasing

What's poppin'

If you're a mall or shopping center, the last thing you want is an empty storefront. If you're a small retailer or entrepreneur, the last thing you want is to be unable to get your product into the hands of customers. Houston-based tech start-up PopUp Shops has a solution: Its Match.com-esque system connects those retailers with property managers who are looking to lease space for the short term.

Launched in the Bayou City last year, the platform made its nationwide debut following an appearance at the International Council of Shopping Centers national conference in Las Vegas in May.

"It's exciting," says Megan Silianoff, a partner in PopUp Shops, of the coast-to-coast expansion. "It's proof our concept — and our hypothesis about it — works."

Silianoff says that retail shopping as we know it is dying. Across the country, malls and shopping centers have spaces sitting empty. Meanwhile, consumers purchase things online and have them delivered to their doors. That's why PopUp Shops' matchmaking concept works so well, she feels.

"Some rent is better than no rent," she reasons, for landlords. "We're a solution to get retailers into brick-and-mortar spaces, even if it is for the short term. It helps the retailer build awareness and excitement about their brand, and it creates foot traffic for the shopping center. It's win-win."

PopUp Shops' website lists spaces available for rent and retailers can peruse the listings and lease space. Silianoff says the system is also a great way for a retailer to test out a market before deciding to have a permanent presence there. She's quick to point out that pop-up stores aren't necessarily new. During the holidays in the 1980s and 1990s, it wasn't uncommon to see temporary stores selling Christmas décor or calendars in malls all over the U.S.

"My business partner Barry Goldware of Sun and Ski Sports likes to say the Romans probably had pop-up shops," she jokes. "But what is new is the platform we're using to connect landlords and retailers."

And, while landlords and sellers connect to find business solutions that are mutually beneficial, Silianoff says that customers wishing to find out what's happening and who's in town will soon be able to go to the website and check out the calendar, which lists which stores are popping up where.

While the nationwide launch is still in its early days, Silianoff says she hopes someday to see it like Craigslist. "You know how when you go there, there's a drop-down of all the cities in the country? That's what I'm envisioning for us. I really want us to revolutionize the shopping experience."

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

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These are the 10 most promising energy tech startups, according to judges at Rice Alliance forum

best of the best

This week, energy startups pitched virtually for venture capitalists — as well as over 1,000 attendees — as a part of Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship's 18th annual Energy and Clean Tech Venture Forum.

At the close of the three-day event, Rice Alliance announced its 10 most-promising energy tech companies. Here's which companies stood out from the rest.

W7energy

Based in Delaware, W7energy has created a zero-emission fuel cell electric vehicle technology supported by PiperION polymers. The startup's founders aim to provide a more reliable green energy that is 33 percent cheaper to make.

"With ion exchange polymer, we can achieve high ionic conductivity while maintaining mechanical strength," the company's website reads. "Because of the platform nature of the chemistry, the chemical and physical properties of the polymer membranes can be tuned to the desired application."

Modumetal

Modumetal, which has its HQ in Washington and an office locally as well, is a nanotechnology company focused on improving industrial materials. The company was founded in 2006 by Christina Lomasney and John Whitaker and developed a patented electrochemical process to produce nanolaminated metal alloys, according to Modumetal's website.

Tri-D Dynamics

San Francisco-based Tri-D Dynamics has developed a suite of smart metal products. The company's Bytepipe product claims to be the world's first smart casing that can collect key information — such as leak detection, temperatures, and diagnostic indicators — from underground and deliver it to workers.

SeekOps

A drone company based in Austin, SeekOps can quickly retrieve and deliver emissions data for its clients with its advance sensor technology. The company, founded in 2017, uses its drone and sensor pairing can help reduce emissions at a low cost.

Akselos

Switzerland-based Akselos has been using digital twin technology since its founding in 2012 to help energy companies analyze their optimization within their infrastructure.

Osperity

Osperity, based in Houston's Galleria area, is a software company that uses artificial intelligence to analyze and monitor industrial operations to translate the observations into strategic intelligence. The technology allows for cost-effective remote monitoring for its clients.

DroneDeploy

DroneDeploy — based in San Francisco and founded in 2013 — has raised over $92 million (according to Crunchbase) for its cloud-based drone mapping and analytics platform. According to the website, DroneDeploy has over 5,000 clients worldwide across oil and gas, construction, and other industries.

HEBI Robotics

Pittsburgh-based HEBI Robotics gives its clients the tools to build custom robotics. Founded 2014, HEBI has clients — such as NASA, Siemens, Ericsson — across industries.

CarbonFree Chemicals

CarbonFree Chemicals, based in San Antonio and founded in 2016, has created a technology to turn carbon emissions to useable solid carbonates.

SensorUp

Canadian Internet of Things company, SensorUp Inc. is a location intelligence platform founded in 2011. The technology specializes in real-time analysis of industrial operations.

"Whether you are working with legacy systems or new sensors, we provide an innovative platform that brings your IoT together for automated operations and processes," the company's website reads.

Amazon unlocks 2 prime brick-and-mortar stores in the Houston area

THAT'S SOME PRIME SHOPPING

The juggernaut that is Amazon considers to rule the universe and expand. Now, local fans of Jeff Bezos' digital behemoth can look forward to two new brick-and-mortar stores in the Houston area.

Amazon announced the opening of two Houston stores on September 18: Amazon 4-star in The Woodlands Mall and Amazon Books in Baybrook Mall.

For the uninitiated, the Amazon 4-star is a new store that carries highly rated products from the top categories across all of Amazon.com — including devices, consumer electronics, kitchen, home, toys, books, games, and more.

As the name implies, all products are rated four stars and above by Amazon customers. Other determinants include the item being a top seller, or if it is new and trending on Amazon.com, according to a press release.

Shoppers can expect fun features such as "Bring Your Own Pumpkin Spice," "Stay Connected Home Tech for Work and Play," "Fresh Off the Screen," and "Trending Around Houston" to discover must-have products. The Woodlands Amazon 4-star (1201 Lake Woodlands Dr.) is the 23rd Amazon 4-star location nationwide.

Meanwhile, shoppers in Baybrook Mall's Amazon Books (1132 Baybrook Mall Dr.) can expect myriad titles rated as customer favorites, whether trending on the site, devices, or listed as customer favorites. Amazon Books in the Baybrook Mall is the 23rd Amazon Books location nationwide.

Books customers can shop cookbooks alongside a highly curated selection of cooking tools, as well as, popular toys, games, and other home items. Amazon Books is open to all: Prime members pay the Amazon.com price in store, and customers who aren't already Prime members can sign up for a free 30-day trial and instantly receive the Amazon.com price in store, according a release.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.