Guest Column

Texas needs to stay innovative, says this nonprofit leader

In order to stay competitive, Texas needs to stay innovative. Photo by gguy44/Getty Images

It's no accident that Texas has one of the strongest economies in the world. Generations of leaders have built and sustained a business climate that welcomes investment and innovation without allowing burdensome regulations and high taxes to get in the way.

Because Texas welcomes job creation and offers families a great quality of life, our population is projected to grow rapidly in the coming years. Experts say the Texas population will increase by 10 million people by the state we celebrate the Texas bicentennial in 2036. There is no doubt that this is a place where people want to live and businesses want to create jobs.

But we cannot assume that our past record of success is destined to repeat itself. When it comes to creating an economy that offers opportunity for our fellow Texans, we have a lot of advantages. But it is up to all of us to make the most of those advantages and also identify ways that we can do better.

That's why I founded an organization called Texas 2036. We are here to support the long-term strategies and investments that will help Texas remain an economic juggernaut for decades to come — a place where great ideas thrive and the brightest minds want to work.

Texas 2036 is intentionally and unapologetically nonpartisan. While we will engage closely with elected leaders, our work is far different from the short-term urgency of politics. We aren't just thinking about the headlines of the day or the whims of the electorate. We believe what Texas needs is someone taking the longer view and focusing on the demands we know are coming down the road, no matter who is holding public office.

This long-term focus requires actionable, credible data. The Texas 2036 team has spent significant time over the last couple of years building the data sets that will help Texas leaders and the people they represent make the best decisions for our future. This data will provide a foundation upon which we can build consensus around solutions that will support continued growth.

For example, there is no better magnet for job creation than a well-educated workforce with diverse skills. Yet there is plenty of work to do to ensure Texas has the robust workforce needed to attract high-quality jobs. Soon, more than 77 percent of jobs will require a college degree or certificate, but only 28 percent of Texas 8th graders complete a postsecondary degree or certificate within six years of high school graduation. We cannot continue our economic success without significant improvements in educational performance and attainment. But if we make those improvements — and I have no doubt that we can — then we will not only sustain our prosperity, but allow more Texans to partake in it.

Our mission is ambitious, but so are Texans. That's why we want as many people as possible engaging with Texas 2036. I hope you will become part of this conversation by texting JOINTX to 52886 and visiting our website. Over the course of the next year, we will be developing and releasing strategies and recommendations for how Texas can meet the demands of the future, and we need as many Texans as possible engaged in this critical effort.

Texas is a place of big dreams and endless possibilities. We have a storied past and a proud present. It's up to all of us to make sure the future is even better.

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Tom Luce is the founder of Texas 2036, an organization focused on bringing attention to issues that are going to affect the Lone Star State in the long term.

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Building Houston

 
 

Cheers Health has expanded its product line as it evolves as a wellness-focused brand. Photo courtesy of Cheers

Houston-based startup Cheers first got a wave of brand devotees after it was passed over by investors on Shark Tank in 2018. In the years since, Cheers secured an impressive investment, launched new products, and became a staple hangover cure for customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses, the company rose to the occasion and experienced its first profitable year as drinking and wellness habits changed across America.

Cheers initially started its company under the name Thrive+ with a hangover-friendly pill that promised to minimize the not-so-fun side effects that come after a night out. The capsules support the liver by replacing lost vitamins, reduce GABAa rebound and lower the alcohol-induced acetaldehyde toxicity levels in the body. The company's legacy product complemented social calendars and nights on the town, providing next day relief.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, the days of pub crawls and social events were numbered. Cheers founder Brooks Powell saw the massive behavior change in people consuming alcohol, and leaned into his vision of becoming more than just a hangover cure but an "alcohol-related health company," he says.

When the pandemic first hit, Powell and his team noticed an immediate dip in sales — a relatable story for businesses in the grips of COVID-19.

"There is a three day period where we went from having the best month in company history to the worst month in company history, over a 72 hour stretch," he remarks.

He soon called an emergency board meeting and rattled off worst-case "doomsday" scenarios, he says.

"Thankfully, we never had to do any of these strategies because, ultimately, the team was able to rally around the new positioning for the brand which was far more focused on alcohol-related health," he says.

"We found that a lot less people were getting hangovers during 2020, because generally when you binge drink, you tend to binge drink with other people," he explains.

He noticed that health became an important focus for people, some who began to drink less due to the lack of social gatherings. On the contrary, some consumers began to drink more to fill the idle time.

According to a JAMA Network report, there was a 54 percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week stay-at-home orders began last March, as compared to the year prior.

"All of a sudden, you have all of these people who probably aren't binge drinking but they're just frequently consuming alcohol. Their drinks per week are shooting up, and they're worried about liver health," explains Powell.

Outside of day-after support, Cheers leaned into its long-term health products to help drinkers consume alcohol in a healthier way. Cheers Restore, a dissolvable powder consumers can mix into their water, rehydrates the body by optimizing sodium and glucose molecules.

For continued support, Cheers Protect is a daily supplement designed to increase glutathione — an antioxidant that plays a key role in liver detoxification — and support overall liver health. Cheers Protect, which was launched in 2019, became a focus for the company as they pivoted its brand strategy and marketing to accommodate consumer behavior.

"The Cheers brand is just trying to reflect the mission statement, which is bringing people together through promoting fun, responsible and health-conscious alcohol consumption," says Powell. "It fits with our vision statement, which is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy and happy lifetime,."

At the close of 2020, Cheers had generated $10.4 million in revenue and over $1.7m in profit — its first profitable year since launch.

During the brand's mission to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Cheers team was also laying the groundwork for its entry into the retail space. When Powell launched the company during his junior year at Princeton University, bringing Cheers to brick-and-mortar stores had always been a goal. He envisioned liquor and grocery stores where Cheers was sold next to alcohol as a complementary item. "It's like getting sunscreen before going to the beach, they kind of go hand in hand," he says.

"When we spoke with retailers, specifically bars and liquor stores, what we learned is that a lot of these places were hesitant to put pills near alcohol," he says. Wanting an attractive and accessible mode of alcohol-support, the Cheers team created the Cheers Restore beverage.

Utilizing the technology Cheers developed with Princeton University researchers, the Cheers Restore beverage incorporates the benefits of the pill in a liquid, sugar-free form. The company states that its in-vivo study found that the drink is up to 19 times more bioavailable than pure dihydromyricetin (DHM), a Japanese raisin tree extract found in Cheers products and other hangover-related cures.

"What we figured out is that if you combine DHM — our main ingredient — with something called capric acid, which is an extract from coconut oil, the bioavailability shoots way up," says Powell. He notes the unique taste profile and the "creaminess" capric acid provides. "Now you have this lightly carbonated, zero-sugar, lemon sherbert, essentially liver support, hangover beverage that tastes great in 12 ounces and can mix with alcohol," he explains.

The Cheers Restore beverage is already hitting the Houston-area, where its found a home on menus at Present Company. The company has also run promotions with Houston hangouts like Memorial Trail Ice House, Drift, and The Powder Keg.

Currently, the beverage is only available in retail capacity and cannot be ordered on the Cheers website. As Powell focuses on expanding Cheers Restore beverage presence in the region, he welcomes the idea of expanding nationally in the future to come. While eager customers await the drink's national availability, they can actively invest in Cheers through the company's recently-launched online public offering.

Though repivoting a company and launching a new product is exciting, the process did not come without its caveats and stressors. While Cheers profited as a business in 2020, the staff and its founder weren't immune to the struggles of COVID-19.

"I think 2020 was the first year that it really became real for me that Cheers is far more than just some sort of alcohol-related health brand and its products," says Powell. "Cheers is really its employees and everything that goes into being a successful, durable company that people essentially bet their careers on and their family's well-being on and so forth," he continues.

"It really does weigh on you in a different way that it's never weighed on you before," says Powell, describing the stress of the pandemic. The experience was "enlightening," he says, and he wants others to know it's not embarrassing to need help.

"There is no lack of great leaders out there that at long periods of their life they needed help in some way," he says. "For me that was 2020 and being in the grinder and feeling the stress of the unknown and all of that, but it could happen to anyone," he continues.

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