Sugar Land-based Fish Fixe floated their seafood delivery service on Shark Tank last year. Photo via Shark Tank

The benefits of working more fish into your diet are as endless as the vast ocean itself, but going about buying and cooking fish is an expensive and daunting process.

Houstonians Melissa Harrington and Emily Castro thought they could help and launched Fish Fixe in 2017 to tackle these challenges and bring high quality seafood direct to consumers. Fish Fixe delivers seafood with easy-to-access instructions on storage and thawing — plus cooking recipes that take around 20 minutes.

The duo launched the company in 2017 and appeared on the 13th season of Shark Tank last year. In 2020, with more people avoiding grocery stores and restaurants, they saw a 400-percent increase in sales. They pitched asking for $200,000 in investment. Lori Greiner, the "queen of QVC," took the bait — and 25 percent equity.

“COVID-19, which forced more people to eat at home and adopt direct-to-consumer services, and Shark Tank were both spring boards for our sales, and through these events we've been able to retain many customers,” says Harrington.

In order to sustain this growth and provide more opportunities to scale, Harrington and Castro put the Shark Tank investment into their distribution line and moved everything into a centralized distribution center which replenishes distribution centers in other parts of the country.

“By late Q2, we will have four distribution centers that can hit 99 percent of the US in less than two days,” says Harrington.

Up next, Harrington and Castro have their sights set on the customer experience and the content space, which they hope to support with some outside funding.

“We are going to go raise some money because we truly feel that with the right resources we can scale and serve more people and spread the message,” says Harrington. “The hard work, we kind of feel like, has already been done in the setup and now it’s time to go have fun and go market, which is really fun.”

Prior to Fish Fixe, Harrington and Castro both worked in food and beverage. Harrington worked in the live lobster business and sold lobsters to high-end Houston restaurants and HEB. Castro worked in wine and spirits and managed a team of 50 sales professionals. Leveraging that depth of experience, they were able to bring Fish Fixe from concept to market in 90 days.

Grab a lantern and enter an epic journey. Photo courtesy of Department of Wonder

Immersive mixed-reality exhibit lights up Houston-area suburb

new tech-enabled experience

Immersive experiences are all the rage; Houston already boasts two Van Gogh experiences (including yoga) and a Frida Kahlo event on the way.

Now, a new entertainment concept offering up exploration and discovery will open its first Houston location in Sugar Land in early 2022. But rather than passive viewing, this immersive activity sets the visitors on a quest in both physical and digital worlds.

Department of Wonder is a new, 10,000-square-foot venue that stages an immersive, mixed-reality fantasy in Sugar Land’s Town Square (2180 Lone Star Dr.). Guests wield a light-gathering lantern and are charged with unraveling stories and solving puzzles amidst a universe of interactive experiences and colorful characters, per a release.

This totally lit experience was forged by an acclaimed creative team of storytellers; recognizable names include Academy Award-winning director Brandon Oldenburg and Emmy Award-winning director Limbert Fabian.

“It’s like stepping inside a film as the main character and being bestowed an epic quest,” said Oldenburg in a statement. “We think it’s the next evolution of location-based entertainment.”

The introduction of the Department of Wonder will coincide with the completion of significant streetscape improvements to the 32-acre Sugar Land Town Square. The bustling shopping, dining, and community hub is in the midst of a major set of upgrades to retail tenancy, event programming, and the physical environment.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Folks in The Woodlands spend big bucks on the holidays. Visit Houston Texas

3 Houston suburbs lead sleigh full of cities with biggest holiday budgets

shopping spree

If you live in The Woodlands, Sugar Land, or League City, you may be making a holiday shopping list as long as a stocking and checking it more than twice.

These three Houston suburbs rank among the 10 U.S. cities with the fattest holiday budgets, according to a new study from personal finance website WalletHub.

The Woodlands ranks third nationally, at $3,073, while Sugar Land comes in fourth ($3,023) and League City lands at No. 10 ($2,778). Pearland ranks 13th ($2,669) and Missouri City appears at No. 80 ($1,499), while Houston ranks 372nd ($783).

“To help consumers avoid post-holiday regret, WalletHub calculated the maximum holiday budget for each of 570 U.S. cities using five key characteristics of the population, such as income, age, and savings-to-monthly expenses ratio,” the website says.

A suburb of Dallas-Fort Worth wraps up the No. 1 spot on the national list. Flower Mound, according to WalletHub, boasts the most Santa-friendly budget among all the cities: $3,427. Flower Mound ranked second last year ($2,973) and third in 2019 ($2,937).

Seven other DFW cities unwrap rankings in the top 100:

  • Allen, No. 12, $2,688.
  • Frisco, No. 30, $2,133.
  • Plano, No. 33, $2,044.
  • Richardson, No. 43, $1,857.
  • Carrollton, No. 56, $1,698.
  • North Richland Hills, No. 76, $1,544.
  • Irving, No. 89, $1,439.

The two biggest cities in North Texas are on the Scrooge-y side: Fort Worth appears at No. 257 ($920), and Dallas ranks 365th ($787).

In the Austin area, the holiday budgets are more on the lean side, like Santa on a diet:

  • Cedar Park, No. 48, $1,770.
  • Round Rock, No. 134, $1,200.
  • Austin, No. 188, $1,049.

Meanwhile, the San Antonio area’s two entrants on the list feel like they’ve earned lumps of coal:

  • New Braunfels, No. 196, $1,034.
  • San Antonio, No. 371, $783.

“In general, consumers are ready to spend and to have social experiences both within and outside the home. This spurs consumption in multiple categories, including food, décor, apparel, and gifts. This trend toward increased spending is mitigated by lingering COVID health concerns, including reticence to shop in physical stores, gather in groups, and travel,” Barbara Stewart, interim chair of the University of Houston’s Department of Human Development and Consumer Sciences, tells WalletHub.

The National Retail Federation predicts a record-shattering holiday season for retail sales, growing between 8.5 percent and 10.5 percent over 2020 to between $843.4 billion and $859 billion. Meanwhile, professional services firm Deloitte envisions a 7 percent to 9 percent spike in holiday spending this year versus last year. Commercial estate services provider pegs the projected increase at 8.4 percent.

“The outlook for the holiday season looks very bright,” says Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation. “The unusual and beneficial position we find ourselves in is that households have increased spending vigorously throughout most of 2021 and remain with plenty of holiday purchasing power.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The city of Sugar Land has been named a business-savvy city. Photo by Matthew T. Carroll/Getty Images

Houston-area suburb claims top spot for business-savvy cities list from Verizon

We're no. 1

Sugar Land has landed some sweet recognition for its business-friendly atmosphere.

A new ranking from Go.Verizon.com puts Sugar Land first among what it calls "the most business-savvy cities in America." The study looked only at cities with at least 100,000 residents.

"Landing the coveted top position on our list, business owners in this suburb outside of Houston know a thing or two about doing it bigger," Go.Verizon.com says. "With a mean household income of $157,923 and an unemployment rate of only 3 percent, Sugar Land lives up to its statue of the strong-willed Stephen Austin, the 'Father of Texas.'"

Six factors went into the ranking:

  1. Average household income.
  2. Unemployment rate.
  3. Percentage of people with at least a bachelor's degree.
  4. Number of applications to start a business.
  5. Percentage of population that starts a business.
  6. Homeownership rate.

"Doing business in Sugar Land might be the best decision you make. As a welcoming and inclusive city, Sugar Land provides a business-friendly environment," says Keri Schmidt, president and CEO of the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce. "The Fort Bend Chamber works collaboratively with the city to support to our businesses in both good times and challenging times."

Key sectors of the economy in Sugar Land, home to roughly 118,500 residents, include manufacturing, biotech, financial services, and energy. Among the major employers are Accredo Packaging, Champion X, Fluor, and Schlumberger.

Sugar Land-based Accredo, which makes packaging mostly for food and consumer products, set up shop in Sugar Land in 2009. Following a 200,000-square-foot, $50 million expansion last year at the Sugar Land Business Park, the company now occupies nearly 550,000 square feet at its 32-acre warehouse and manufacturing site. When the expansion was completed last year, Accredo said it would be adding 100 jobs through 2021.

"Accredo has continued to grow and expand as a thriving global company," Sunny Sharma, president of the Sugar Land Legacy Foundation, said in 2019. "Their products cross international borders, and we are fortunate that they choose Sugar Land to connect the world."

One other Texas city appears on the Go.Verizon.com list: eighth-ranked Frisco, a suburb of Dallas-Fort Worth.

"Frisco residents can spend confidently: The mean household income is $153,704," Go.Verizon.com says. "Business owners in the city provide plenty of places for citizens to spend all that cash — Frisco has video game museums, vintage automobile collections, and outdoor concert venues."

It's 2020 and Santa is coming to town via technology, kids. Photo via MAGI·SPHERE

Santa Claus is coming to a Houston-area town in an innovative way

ho ho ho

Christmas may look a little different this year, but that doesn't mean Santa isn't coming to town. While a family picture with Santa is a seasonal staple for your mantel, the CDC guidelines aren't exactly conducive to a photo on Kriss Kringle's lap. The recently debuted MAGI·SPHERE installation at Sugar Land Town Square is helping patrons interact with Santa in a safe way.

Mall Santas have long been the stars of holiday cards and Christmas movies. As shopping centers across America grappled with how to safely create holiday experiences, a slew of options and ideas were deployed to assuage shoppers. Some Santas have donned face shields, others wave to children from behind plexiglass, few are booking online experiences with retailers like Macy's, and many are taking this Christmas season off for health concerns.

Like many destinations around the U.S., Sugar Land Town Square pivoted to an untraditional holiday experience. The MAGI·SPHERE, located on the plaza deck, is a holographic snow globe that allows visitors to interact and share their holiday wishes with a 3D projection of Santa Claus in real-time. The installation was created by Flight School Studio, a Dallas-based creative team that specializes in interactive activations, and uses proprietary technology.

Santa's MAGI·SPHERE in Sugar Land Texas www.youtube.com

"That's what we challenged them with. On a tough year when kids have been stuck at home, can you create a little bit of magic?" said Matt Ragan, a Sugar Land Town Square representative, of the partnership with Flight School Studio in an interview on "Houston Life."

The MAGI·SPHERE's Santa isn't just a scripted hologram—the Santa can interact and have a two-way dialogue similar to an in-person meet-and-greet. Flight School Studio deployed facial recognition software to create an animated holograph of Santa that captures the nuances and movements of a nearby actor's face. As the actor playing Santa watches a video feed of guests and communicates from a separate room, the animated avatar reflects his gestures.

"The use of emerging technology allows us to make storytelling and experiences much more extraordinary. This is especially impactful when re-inventing such a longstanding holiday tradition," says Brandon Oldenburg, chief creative officer of Flight School Studio, in a statement.

The MAGI·SPHERE is just a taste of the activations Flight School Studio plans on bringing to the center. The studio's forthcoming brick and mortar location is slated to open at Sugar Land Town Square in early 2021. The 9,000-square-foot space will blend physical sets with technologies, including projection mapping, augmented reality, 3D animation, haptics, motion tracking, lighting, and sound.

"We can't wait to show the world more of what we have in store, while also putting our home state of Texas and the Houston area at the forefront of both mixed reality and how the retail environment is being reimagined for the future," Oldenburg says in a press release.

Families can visit the MAGI·SPHERE through Dec. 24 by making an appointment online or using the on-site queuing system. Social distancing and face masks in common areas will be enforced throughout the experience.
Hey, big spenders of The Woodlands and Sugar Land. Photo courtesy of Holiday Shopping Card

Shoppers in these Houston suburbs are among biggest holiday spenders in U.S.

big spenders

It appears that delivery drivers (and Santa) will be hauling sleighs full of gifts to homes in The Woodlands and Sugar Land this holiday season.

A new study from personal finance website WalletHub ranks The Woodlands and Sugar Land sixth and seventh, respectively, in the country for cities with the biggest holiday budgets. WalletHub estimates that consumers in The Woodlands will ring up an average of $2,729 in holiday spending; Sugar Land residents will spend $2,728.

Other Greater Houston-area suburbs on the list include League City, No. 15 at $2,501, and Missouri City, No. 98 at $1,264.

Elsewhere in Texas, Flower Mound came in second for holiday spending; residents there will ring up an average of $2,973. Only Palo Alto, California, had a higher amount ($3,056) among the 570 U.S. cities included in the study, which was released November 17.

The five factors that WalletHub used to come up with budget estimates for each city are income, age, savings-to-expenses ratio, income-to-expenses ratio and debt-to-income ratio.

Flower Mound consistently ranks at the top of WalletHub's annual study on holiday spending. Last year, the Dallas suburb came in at No. 3 (budget: $2,937), and in 2018, it landed atop the list at No. 1 (budget: $2,761).

Aside from Flower Mound, five cities in Dallas-Fort Worth appear in WalletHub's top 100:

  • Richardson, No. 36, $2,002
  • Frisco, No. 53, $1,684
  • Plano, No. 59, $1,594
  • Carrollton, No. 71, $1,492
  • North Richland Hills, No. 95, $1,303

Two cities in the Austin area also make the top 100: Cedar Park at No. 73 ($1,472) and Austin at No. 99 ($1,259).

Austin's No. 99 ranking puts it in the top spot among Texas' five largest cities. It's followed by Fort Worth (No. 306, $718), San Antonio (No. 394, $600), Dallas (No. 399, $596), and Houston (No. 436, $565).

Harlingen is the most Scrooge-y Texas city: The estimated $385 holiday budget puts it at No. 560 nationwide.

Overall, Americans predict they'll spend an average of $805 on holiday gifts this year, down significantly from last year's estimate of $942, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Outlooks for U.S. holiday retail sales this year are muted due to the pandemic-produced recession. Consulting giant Deloitte forecasts a modest rise of 1 percent to 1.5 percent, with commercial real estate services provider CBRE guessing the figure will be less than 2 percent.

"The lower projected holiday growth this season is not surprising given the state of the economy. While high unemployment and economic anxiety will weigh on overall retail sales this holiday season, reduced spending on pandemic-sensitive services such as restaurants and travel may help bolster retail holiday sales somewhat," Daniel Bachman, Deloitte's U.S. economic forecaster, says in a release.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston-based creator economy platform goes live nationally

so clutch

An app that originally launched on Houston college campuses has announced it's now live nationwide.

Clutch founders Madison Long and Simone May set out to make it easier for the younger generation to earn money with their skill sets. After launching a beta at local universities last fall, Clutch's digital marketplace is now live for others to join in.

The platform connects brands to its network of creators for reliable and authentic work — everything from social media management, video creation, video editing, content creation, graphic design projects, and more. With weekly payments to creators and an inclusive platform for users on both sides of the equation, Clutch aims to make digital collaboration easier and more reliable for everyone.

“We’re thrilled to bring our product to market to make sustainable, authentic lifestyles available to everyone through the creator economy," says May, CTO and co-founder of Clutch. "We’re honored to be part of the thriving innovation community here in Houston and get to bring more on-your-own-terms work opportunities to all creators and businesses through our platform.”

In its beta, Clutch facilitated collaborations for over 200 student creators and 50 brands — such as DIGITS and nama. The company is founded with a mission of "democratizing access to information and technology and elevating the next generation for all people," according to a news release from Clutch. In the beta, 75 percent of the creators were people of color and around half of the businesses were owned by women and people of color.

“As a Clutch Creator, I set my own pricing, schedule and services when collaborating on projects for brands,” says Cathy Syfert, a creator through Clutch. “Clutch Creators embrace the benefits of being a brand ambassador as we create content about the products we love, but do it on behalf of the brands to help the brands grow authentically."

The newly launched product has the following features:

  • Creator profile, where users can share their services, pricing, and skills and review inquiries from brands.
  • Curated matching from the Clutch admin team.
  • Collab initiation, where users can accept or reject incoming collab requests with brands.
  • Collab management — communication, timing, review cycles — all within the platform.
  • In-app payments with a weekly amount selected by the creators themselves.
  • Seamless cancellation for both brands and creators.
Clutch raised $1.2 million in seed funding from Precursor Ventures, Capital Factory, HearstLab, and more. Clutch was originally founded as Campus Concierge in 2021 and has gone through the DivInc Houston program at the Ion.

Madison Long, left, and Simone May co-founded Clutch. Photo courtesy of Clutch

Houston expert: Space tourism is the future — do we have the workforce to run it?

guest column

Throughout history, humans have always been fascinated in exploring and traveling around the world, taking them to many exotic places far and away. On the same token, ever since the dimension of space travel has been inaugurated with multiple private companies launching rockets into space, it has become an agenda to make space travel public and accessible to all. We believe that space travel is the next frontier for tourism just like for our forefathers world travel to faraway places was the next frontier, for recreational and adventure purposes.

In a world racing on technology, we can picture flying cars, invisible doors, and international cuisine in space. With this rapid expansion of the land, the idea of space tourism has stirred the space industry to think about running businesses, start trade, and set up universalization beyond the ring of the earth. It is no longer science fiction but our immediate future. However, the true question remains. Who will be responsible for all of it? Are we training the right workforce that is needed to build and run all of this?

Space tourism is an exciting idea in theory, traveling to extra-terrestrial destinations, exploring new planets, all by being in an anti-gravitational environment. Through these diminishing borders and rapid advancements soon we'll be living the space life, all the virtual, metaverse gigs coming to reality. But before that let's explore space tourism and how the solar system will welcome humans.

What is Space tourism?

Ever since 1967, Apollo opened the getaway of space travel and the technological intervention spun to rise. Just like nomad tourism, space tourism is human space travel for commercializing interstellar for leisure or pleasurable adventures of the unknown. Space has different levels of horizons, according to research, orbital space has high speeds of 17,400 mph to allow the rocket to orbit around the Earth without falling onto the land. While lunar space tourism goes into subcortical flights and brings people back at a slower speed.

Studies have shown that in the upcoming years, commercial space exploration will hike up the economical database, by generating more than expected revenue. On these grounds, space tourism won't be limited to suborbital flights but rather take onto orbital flights, this revolutionary expenditure will change the future.

Everything aligns when the right team works together endlessly to reach the stars. The space exploration will only take place with enthusiastic and empowered individuals catering towards their roles.

Astronomers, space scientists, meteorologists, plasma physicists, aerospace engineers, avionics technicians, technical writers, space producers, and more will work in the field to make this space dream come true.

The attraction of Space exploration

Curiosity is the gateway to the seven wonders of the world. Humans are born with novelty-seeking, the drive to explore the unknown and push boundaries. This exploration has benefited society in a million ways, from making bulbs to jets.

The attraction towards exploring the space stems from the same desire for novelty seeking. We want to answer the most difficult questions about the universe, is there only darkness beyond that sky? Can we live on another planet if ours die? To address the challenges of space and the world, we have created new technologies, industries, and a union worldwide. This shows how vital space exploration is to humans. Many astronauts dwell on the idea of seeing the iconic thin blue outline of our planet, the quintessential experience makes the astronaut go back and back. However, are we entering this dimension with the right skills? Is our future workforce ready to take need the best

Who will lead the path?

The main question that still goes unanswered is who will run space tourism. When it comes to the future, there are infinite options. One decision and you will fly into an endless sky.

This expenditure has opened multiple career opportunities for the future workforce to take on for diversification and exploration of space. Currently, we cannot predict how people will find meaning and improve their lives through space tourism, but it will be a soul-awakening experience. According to experts, travelers would prefer a livelihood in space for which companies are working day and night to figure out accommodation and properties. The ideas include having space hotels, offices, research labs, and tents for operations.

Lastly, space tourism is just a start, we are moving into a dimensional field of physics and astronomy to create new opportunities and ground-breaking inventions to explore the untouchable. The new era of more refined and thoroughly accessed careers are on the rise, let's see how the world evolves in the next 10 years.

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Ghazal Qureshi is the founder and CEO of UpBrainery, a Houston-based immersive educational technology platform that taps into neuroscience research-based programs to provide adaptive learning and individualized pathways for students at home or in the classroom.

Climatetech incubator announces C-suite promotion, Houston jobs, and nonprofit transition

greentown updates

The new year has brought some big news from Greentown Labs.

The Somerville, Massachusetts-based climatetech incubator with its second location at Greentown Houston named a new member to its C-suite, is seeking new Houston team members, and is in the process of transitioning into a nonprofit.

Juliana Garaizar, who originally joined Greentown as launch director ahead of the Houston opening in 2021, has been promoted from vice president of innovation to chief development and investment officer.

"I'm refocusing on the Greentown Labs level in a development role, which means fundraising for both locations and potentially new ones," Garaizar tells InnovationMap. "My role is not only development, but also investment. That's something I'm very glad to be pursuing with my investment hat. Access to capital is key for all our members, and I'm going to be in charge of refining and upgrading our investment program."

While she will also maintain her role as head of the Houston incubator, Greentown Houston is also hiring a general manager position to oversee day-to-day and internal operations of the hub. Garaizar says this role will take some of the internal-facing responsibilities off of her plate.

"Now that we are more than 80 members, we need more internal coordination," she explains. "Considering that the goal for Greentown is to grow to more locations, there's going to be more coordination and, I'd say, more autonomy for the Houston campus."

The promotion follows a recent announcement that Emily Reichert, who served as CEO for the company for a decade, has stepped back to become CEO emeritus. Greentown is searching for its next leader and CFO Kevin Taylor is currently serving as interim CEO. Garaizar says the transition is representative of Greentown's future as it expands to a larger organization.

"Emily's transition was planned — but, of course, in stealth mode," Garaizar says, adding that Reichert is assisting in the transition process. "She thinks scaling is a different animal from putting (Greentown) together, which she did really beautifully."

Garaizar says her new role comes alongside Greentown's return to nonprofit status. She tells InnovationMap that the organization originally was founded as a nonprofit, but converted to a for-profit in order to receive a loan at its first location. Now, with the mission focus Greentown has and the opportunities for grants and funding, it's time to convert back to a nonprofit, Garaizar says.

"When we started fundraising for Houston, everyone was asking why we weren't a nonprofit. That opened the discussion again," she says. "The past year we have been going through that process and we can finally say it has been completed.

"I think it's going to open the door to a lot more collaboration and potential grants," she adds.

Greentown is continuing to grow its team ahead of planned expansion. The organization hasn't yet announced another location — Garaizar says the primary focus is filling the CEO position first. In Houston, the hub is also looking for an events manager to ensure the incubator is providing key programming for its members, as well as the Houston innovation community as a whole.