This digital shopping assistant relocated to Texas last year to focus on the business-friendly market. Courtesy of ModeSens

Former Microsoft engineer Brian Li wanted to help his wife, Jing Leng, a personal shopper, make smart purchases for her clients seeking luxury clothing. The couple found it impractical and time consuming to sift through multiple websites in search of clothing that was the best fit.

Li, now CEO of ModeSens, was inspired in 2015 to develop a personal shopping tool. The name comes from rearranging the French phrase "sens de la mode," which means "fashion sense."

"It started out as something that Brian worked on in his free time. But after they started using it, they realized that other people would find it useful," says Krystle Craycraft, CMO of ModeSens. "Another resource like this does not exist. We are the only company that aggregates information at the product level, presenting information to consumers in a way that is easy to navigate, and all in one place."

Since launching in 2015 in Seattle, the company relocated to Texas last year. Now, headquartered in Dallas, the company is building a large pool of users in major cities throughout Texas. ModeSens sees a growing connection with Houston in terms of customers and fashion retailers.

Li moved the business "because Texas is a good place to do business," Craycraft says. "Many businesses are following the trend of moving to Texas because of the great climate to do business in. We love Texas."

ModeSens, using its database of information, gives luxury fashion shoppers important information about products as they search, making for a more efficient, satisfying purchase. For a given item, ModeSens provides members a list of retailers who have the item in stock, the price comparison across retailers, available colors, designer information, product reviews, special promotions, and more.

You can download the free app, create a free account, and start saving on luxury goods by searching the site or scanning barcodes in the store. As ModeSens specializes in luxury goods, they partner with almost 200 brands such as Neiman Marcus, SAKS, Gucci, Dolce & Gobana, Lane Crawford and other premier designers.

"We connect with clients through several different affiliate networks as well as direct partnerships," says Craycraft. ModeSens partners exclusively with high-end retailers, filling a specific niche for the first time.

Leng, serving as the Fashion Director at ModeSens, works with these retail partners, curating content and promoting their products in a way that helps customers buy confidently.

"The customer is the focus of ModeSens; getting them what they need to make an informed decision is our top priority," says Craycraft. "Other fashion shopping platforms show products from Forever 21 all the way up to luxury brands, but for our customers looking for luxury products, a lot of those stores are just not relevant to them. Sorting through them becomes tedious."

ModeSens puts the answers to at customers' questions at their fingertips, once signed up with a free membership.

With the brand-new release of the barcode scanning feature, customers can have access to the same comparative information while physically in a store, as well as online.

"This is a total game-changer in the industry; there is no one else doing this," says Craycraft.

Using the app, shoppers simply scan the barcode of any of the many retailers who are partnered with ModeSens, revealing detailed information that can guide their purchase.

ModeSens is building an online community of luxury shoppers that can collaborate to find exactly what they are looking for in an authentic way. Through the website, members can upload pictures of the products that they have acquired, write reviews, provide helpful information to others, and ask questions.

"We want this to be a place where anyone can share their thoughts, and photos without feeling too intimidated to contribute," Craycraft says.

OrchidBox's smart terrarium fits on your desktop. Courtesy OrchidBox

Desktop terrarium startup promises plants that never die

Growing business

A Dallas startup has invented a smart terrarium with minimal maintenance designed to keep your plants alive. Called OrchidBox, it handles everything from easy succulents to hard-to-grow plants like the Venus flytrap.

The technology senses when the plant needs water and syncs with the sun for proper lighting.

Founder Nathan Hollis, a 26-year-old Dallas native, used his background in computer science and his love of plants to create an acrylic box equipped with LED lighting and a watering system.

The box measures 4x4x7 inches — small enough to fit on your work desk or bedside table. You can grow any plant that fits inside the box. An app allows you to select a pre-designed environment for your plant, and you can set a schedule for how much light and water it needs.

Hollis has a huge plant collection at home, some of which he has owned for seven years.

"It's sad, I don't think young people understand just how diverse our wildlife is, and we are losing more and more plant species every day," he says.

The name OrchidBox was selected to educate people about plant varieties and endangered species.

"While most people think of the stereotypical store-bought orchids, there are actually 50,000 species of orchids, some that are very, very bizarre," he says. "Most people don't know that, and some don't even know what an orchid is, so we wanted to take the opportunity to teach people."

The mini terrarium concept has been three years in the making. When he was in college, Hollis utilized his programming and mechanical engineering education to make climate-controlled devices that were larger, before sizing down his design to something that could adorn people's tabletops.

The company has competitors, such as Biopod Smart Microhabitat and EcoQube Air, but OrchidBox is the only company with a patent, said Taylor Mason, whose company It Crowd Marketing is helping Hollis with the media buzz.

Hollis had a full-time job but quit in February to focus exclusively on this venture. The product is available for pre-order which you can do here.

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

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These were the most-read guest columns by Houston innovators in 2022

2022 in review

Editor's note: Every week, InnovationMap — Houston's only news source and resource about and for startups — runs one or two guest columns written by tech entrepreneurs, public relations experts, data geniuses, and more. As Houston's innovation ecosystem gets ready for 2023, here are some of this year's top guest contributor pieces — each with pertinent information and advice for startups both at publishing and into the new year. Make sure to click "read more" to continue reading each piece.

Is your New Year's resolution to start contributing? Email natalie@innovationmap.com to learn more.

Houston expert: How to navigate Gen Z's quiet quitting movement at your company

Your perspective on quiet quitting is probably generational, says one Houston expert and startup founder. Photo via Getty Images

This month, the internet has been discussing "quiet quitting," the practice of employees setting hard boundaries about when they work and to what extent they are willing to go beyond the outlined expectations of their jobs.

The conversation around quiet quitting has also been lively at the Ampersand offices. As a training company that is dedicated to training new professionals for employers both big and small, it's critically important for our team to have a good grasp on the relationship employees have with their jobs, and what motivates them to succeed. So we had a long meeting where we discussed what quiet quitting meant to each of us. Read more.

Houston expert shares how small business leaders can encourage PTO use

Retaining employees is no easy feat these days. Encouraging a healthy PTO policy can help avoid burnout. Photo courtesy of Joe Aker

As many small businesses continue to operate in a challenging, fast-paced environment, one thing that has arrived at breakneck speed is midyear, along with the summer months. Theoretically, to ensure work-life balance, most employees should have 50 percent of their PTO remaining to use for summer vacations and during the second half of the year. In reality, that is probably not the case given workers are hesitant to use their PTO, leaving approximately five days of unused PTO on the table during 2020 and 2021.

While the pandemic affected PTO usage the last two years, the labor shortage appears to be a major contributor in 2022, which has led to PTO hoarding and increasing levels of employee burnout. Although these factors can be compounded for small business owners because there are fewer employees to handle daily responsibilities, it is imperative for workers to take PTO, returning recharged with a fresh perspective on the tasks at hand. Read more.

Houston expert: 3 emotional intelligence tips for improving patient-practitioner experience

A Houston expert shares how to improve on communication in the health care setting. Image via Getty Images

After spending hours with healthcare professionals as both a consultant and patient, I know that it takes a special kind of person to take care of others in their most distressing and vulnerable times. That responsibility has been in overdrive because of COVID, causing emotional burnout, which in turn affects patient care. By equipping yourself with emotional intelligence, you can be more resilient for yourself and patients.

Emotional intelligence is keeping your intelligence high, when emotions are high.

Health care sets up an environment for a tornado of emotions, and the rules and regulations centered around patient-provider interactions are often complex to navigate. This leaves many on the brink of emotional exhaustion, and for survival’s sake, depersonalization with patients becomes the status quo. Feeling a disconnect with their patients is another added weight, as few get into this industry for just the paycheck – it’s the impact of helping people get healthy and stay healthy that motivates them. I’ve seen it time and time again with people in my life, as well as on my own patient journey as I battled stage 3 cancer. Read more.

Here's what types of technology is going to disrupt the education sector, says this Houston founder

Edtech is expected to continue to make learning more interactive, fun, and inclusive for people around the world. Photo via Pexels

Technology has always maneuvered education in a certain direction but the COVID-19 pandemic has forced it to shift towards a new direction entirely.

What started off as a basic video lecture turned into a more hybrid and innovative form of education, enabling student engagement and interactivity like never before. Social media forums allow teachers to pay one-on-one attention to students boosting their learning process.

With an edtech boom on the rise, there is a question of what further expansion in educational technology is expected. Here are some technology breakthroughs currently underway in the education sector. Read more.

Houston expert weighs in on marketing from an investor’s perspective

What should Houston startups know about marketing? Photo via Getty Images

Just what do investors want to see from a startup with regards to the company’s marketing? I recently spoke on this topic to a cohort of early-stage technology startup entrepreneurs at Softeq Venture Studio, an accelerator program that helps founders build investable technologies and businesses. Read more.

These elite Houston researchers were named among the most-cited in their fields

MVPs

Nearly 60 scientists and professors from Houston-area universities and institutions, working in fields from ecology to immunology, have been named among the most-cited researchers in the world.

The Clarivate Highly Cited Researchers 2022 list considers a global pool of public academic papers that rank in the top 1 percent of citations for field and publication year in the Web of Science. It then ranks researchers by the number of times their work has been cited, or referenced, by other researchers, which, according to the University of Houston, helps their findings "become more impactful and gain further credibility."

This year 6,938 researchers from 70 different countries were named to this list. About 38 percent of the researchers are based in the U.S.

“Research fuels the race for knowledge and it is important that nations and institutions celebrate the individuals who drive the wheel of innovation. The Highly Cited Researchers list identifies and celebrates exceptional individual researchers who are having a significant impact on the research community as evidenced by the rate at which their work is being cited by their peers," says David Pendlebury, head of research analysis at the Institute for Scientific Information at Clarivate, in a statement. "These individuals are helping to transform human ingenuity into our world’s greatest breakthroughs.”

Harvard University was home to the most researchers, with 233 researchers making the list, far outpacing Stanford University, which had the second highest total of 126 researchers.

Texas universities and institutions had a strong showing, too. The University of Texas at Austin had 31 researchers on the list, tying UT with the University of Minnesota and Peking University in China for the No. 35 spot. MD Anderson had 30 researchers on the list, the most among organizations in Houston, earning it a 38th place ranking, tied with the University of Maryland and University of Michigan.

Below is a list of the Houston-area highly cited researchers and their fields.

From UT MD Anderson Cancer Center

  • Jaffer Ajani (Cross-Field)
  • James P. Allison (Immunology)
  • Jan A. Burger (Clinical Medicine)
  • George Calin (Cross-Field)
  • Jorge Cortes (Clinical Medicine)
  • Courtney DiNardo (Clinical Medicine)
  • John V. Heymach (Clinical Medicine)
  • David Hong (Cross-Field)
  • Gabriel N. Hortobagyi (Cross-Field)
  • Robert R. Jenq (Cross-Field)
  • Hagop M.Kantarjian (Clinical Medicine)
  • Marina Y. Konopleva (Clinical Medicine)
  • Dimitrios P. Kontoyiannis (Cross-Field)
  • Scott E. Kopetz (Clinical Medicine)
  • Alexander J. Lazar (Cross-Field)
  • J. Jack Lee (Cross-Field)
  • Anirban Maitra (Clinical Medicine)
  • Robert Z. Orlowski (Clinical Medicine)
  • Padmanee Sharma (Clinical Medicine and Molecular Biology and Genetics)
  • Anil K. Good (Cross-Field)
  • Jennifer A. Wargo (Molecular Biology and Genetics)
  • William G. Wierda (Clinical Medicine)

From Baylor College of Medicine

  • Erez Lieberman Aiden (Cross-Field)
  • Nadim J. Ajami (Cross-Field)
  • Christie M. Ballantyne (Clinical Medicine)
  • Malcolm K. Brenner (Cross-Field)
  • Hashem B. El-Serag (Clinical Medicine)
  • Richard Gibbs (Cross-Field)
  • Heslop, Helen Cross-Field
  • Joseph Jankovic (Cross-Field)
  • Sheldon L. Kaplan (Immunology)
  • Joseph F. Petrosino (Cross-Field)
  • Cliona Rooney (Cross-Field)
  • James Versalovic (Cross-Field)
  • Bing Zhang (Cross-Field)

From Rice University

  • Plucker M. Ajayan (Materials Science)
  • Pedro J. J. Alvarez (Environment and Ecology)
  • Naomi Halas (Materials Science)
  • Jun Lou (Materials Science)
  • Antonios G. Nikos (Cross-Field)
  • Aditya D. Mohite (Cross-Field)
  • Peter Nordlander (Materials Science)
  • Ramamoorthy Ramesh (Physics)
  • James M. Tour (Materials Science)
  • Robert Vajtai (Materials Science)
  • Haotian Wang (Chemistry)
  • Zhen-Yu Wu (Cross-Field)
  • From University of Houston
  • Jiming Bao (Cross-Field)
  • Shuo Chen (Cross-Field)
  • Whiffing Ren (Cross-Field)
  • Zhu Han (Computer Science)

From UTMB Galveston

  • Vineet D.Menachery (Microbiology)
  • Nikos Vasilakis (Cross-Field
  • Scott C. Weaver (Cross-Field)
  • From UT Health Science Center-Houston
  • Eric Boerwinkle (Cross-Field)

Overheard: Houston experts call for more open innovation at industry-blending event

eavesdropping at the Ion

Open innovation, or the practice of sourcing new technologies and idea across institutions and industries, was top of mind at the annual Pumps & Pipes event earlier this week.

The event, which is put on by an organization of the same name every year, focuses on the intersection of the energy, health care, and aerospace industries. The keynote discussion, with panelists representing each industry, covered several topics, including the importance of open innovation.

If you missed the discussion, check out some key moments from the panel.

“If we want to survive as a city, we need to make sure we can work together.”

Juliana Garaizar of Greentown Labs. "From being competitive, we’ve become collaborative, because the challenges at hand in the world right now is too big to compete," she continues.

“The pace of innovation has changed.”

Steve Rader of NASA. He explains that 90 percent of all scientists who have ever lived are alive on earth today. “If you think you can do it all yourself — and just find all the latest technology yourself, you’re kidding yourself.”

“You can’t close the door. If you do, you’re closing the door to potential opportunities.”

— Michelle Stansbury, Houston Methodist. “If you think you can do it all yourself — and just find all the latest technology yourself, you’re kidding yourself.” She explains that there's an influx of technologies coming in, but what doesn't work now, might work later or for another collaborator. "I would say that health care as a whole hasn’t been very good at sharing all of the things we’ve been creating, but that’s not the case today," she explains.

“The thing that makes Houston great is the same thing that makes open innovation great: diversity.”

— Rader says, adding that this makes for a great opportunity for Houston.

“Some of our greatest innovations that we’ve had come from other industries — not from health tech companies.”

— Stansbury says. "I think that's the piece everyone needs to understand," she says. "Don't just look in your own industry to solve problems."

“Nobody knows what is the best technology — the one that is going to be the new oil."

— Garaizar says. “All of this is going to be a lot of trial and error," she continues. “We don’t have the luxury of time anymore.”