Home sweet home tech

UK-based smart home products company focuses on Houston growth

United Kingdom-based smart technology company, Hive, chose Houston as the city to grow its United States presence. Photo courtesy of Hive

Hive, a smart product company with headquarters in the United Kingdom, has zoned in on Houston for growth in the United States. Drawn to the city's diverse population and tech growth, the company also has a preexisting connection to Direct Energy, which has a large footprint in Houston.

The two companies are connected under the umbrella of parent company Centrica, which is also based in the U.K. Most recently, the company appointed Leah Barton as North American Commercial Director to serve in the Houston office as of June 2019.

Barton tells InnovationMap that she feels Houston is increasingly becoming an innovation hub.

"We know we've got the technical talent, we've got people who are interested in technology, whether it's from the medical angle, energy angle, aerospace angle," she says.

Hive has been in Houston since 2017, but recently, especially with the appointment of Burton, the company has amped up its Houston presence.

"We're looking for solutions that engage the whole home, so in the 21st century a smart home is a key component of whole-home energy management and comfort management," says Barton.

In May 2019, the company launched security product packs into the Houston market. These packs combine a number of Hive products, including an indoor package, and outdoor package, and a combination pack. The packages include a camera, a light monitoring system, and sensors for doors and windows to capture any activity.

"Those very much had a home automation component to it, but also a peace of mind component," says Barton.

Hive plans to bring the smart products that have done well in its U.K market to its United States markets, including Houston. These products would be focused on ensuring air conditioners, heating units, boilers, are working correctly.

"We've been testing this air conditioning proposition with some of our home service providers within the broader Direct Energy network, that's what we're most excited to launch in the second half of the year," says Barton. "This air conditioning diagnostic product will give people advance warning if their air conditioning is going to run into trouble and will let them address it before it's too late and they are in a 'no cool' situation."

The Houston office is located in Greenway Plaza and the company currently has 25 employees in the United States, most who are based in Houston. Globally, Hive has a team of 500.

The companies most popular product is the smart thermostat, the product which the company was founded around and has remained a top seller. According to the website, the thermostat can be controlled from the user's smartphone. Through the Hive app, which launched in 2013, users can set daily schedules for the temperature as well as turn the unit on and off.

"Over time we've expanded that, we sell our own smart plugs, bulbs, sensors," says Peter Filcek, business development director for Hive. "Customers said they wanted more so we launched absolutely beautiful cameras about two years ago."

"Everything that we have brought to market, everything that we've built, is based on a real deep understanding of the problems and needs that our customers have," Filcek tells InnovationMap.

Hive products are available online anywhere in the United States or Canada.


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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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