DivInc Spotlights Austin’s Diverse Tech Founders at its Third Demo Day

DivInc’s Third Cohort

By LAURA LOREK
Publisher of Silicon Hills News

Austin’s rare snow and ice storm didn’t stop the tech community from turning out at DivInc’s Demo Day at Google’s Austin downtown office Friday night.

The night shined a spotlight on women and minority tech founders who are launching startups in Austin.

“It’s about startups. It is about diversity and inclusion but it’s also about this expanding startup ecosystem and making it more inclusive to give opportunities for this hidden talent that’s across Austin, said Preston James, co-founder of DivInc, an Austin-based accelerator that helps women and minorities launch tech startups.

“I hope tonight that we will be opening up the gates for some new talent to come in and make their contributions into Austin and make Austin the number one city for tech diversity in the United States,” James said.

It’s no secret that the tech industry lacks diversity. Women and people of color make up a small fraction of the startup founders that receive funding every year from the venture capital firms and angel investors. And Austin, which has a huge and growing tech industry, is struggling with this problem also. That’s why James, Dana Callender and Ashley Jennings founded DivInc.

The 13-week long accelerator, based at Capital Factory, provides mentorship and coaching to tech startup founders. Its third class of startups just finished the program which culminated with the Demo Day pitch event.

At the event, guest speaker Latraviette Smith, senior vice president of communications of Sundial Brands, based in New York, announced a $100 million New Voices Venture Capital Fund aimed at investing in women of color entrepreneurs.

“Together we will change the face of entrepreneurship,” Smith said.

The latest DivInc cohort consisted of eight tech startups ranging from mobile apps and online marketplaces to e-commerce sites focused on travel, wellness retreats, advertising agencies, restaurants, retail, consumer electronics, gardening, and education.

First up, Sara Brinton, founder, and CEO of Penguino Travel pitched her travel site for families with young children. It helps match travelers with families in the countries they are visiting to learn about kid-friendly spots. It also provides travel kits and other information to families traveling with children.

By 2020, Brinton forecasts Penguino will have 28,000 customers that will plan trips on its site and $10 million in revenue, with revenue coming through product sales and commissions on booking with airlines, hotels, and attractions.

Penguino Travel launched a year ago as an online store and since then the company has generated $20,000 in revenue, Brinton said. The company is about to launch its travel planning platform for families, she said. It is also going to create a mobile app, she said.

The goal is to empower one million families over the next ten years to travel different, Brinton said.

Next, Ashley Behnke, founder of Spot Loc8r, pitched her mobile app that lists picture-perfect locations in each city. The app is aimed at brands, ad agencies and social media influencers looking for the perfect place to stage a photo or make a film.

“Brands are scrambling,” Behnke said. “They are continually trying to find the most authentic and most organic ways to connect with their audiences.”

Spot Loc8r provides a visual content platform that saves time, increases efficiency and ultimately generates more revenue for brands, ad agencies and social media influencers, Behnke said. It is also creating a mobile app.

Spot Loc8r plans to generate revenue from in-app purchases, subscriptions from businesses and the sales of campaign lists to ad agencies. Currently, ad agencies send people out to scout for locations and no automated system exists yet to do this task, Behnke said.

“We will be crowdsourcing the work for our clients and leveraging machine learning to make their jobs easier,” Behnke said. “There’s no way one person knows where all the beautiful places are but together with Spot Loc8r we will.”

In 2018, the pilot program will begin in Austin, Behnke said. She’s currently looking for investors and introductions to Austin ad agencies as customers.

“We are Spot Loc8r and we help content creators produce compelling content more quickly and easily,” Behnke said.

The third presenter, Roman Gonzalez, founded Gardenio, an online marketplace for gardeners aimed at Millennials. Its products include an urban garden in a box starter kit with other follow-on products and information.

“With Gardenio, we are the path for the next generation of lifelong gardeners,” Gonzalez said.

Gardenio provides products and technology to make it easy to start and maintain and continue with a garden, he said.

They send customers everything they need to start a garden in a box including plants, soil, and care guides, Behnke said. The boxes cost between $50 to $100. Gardenio plans to develop a mobile app with detailed digital care guides and other gardening information, he said. A portion of the proceeds from all sales are donated to nonprofit organizations focused on food justice, he said.

“If we succeed so do the communities that we operate in,” Gonzalez said.

“This is a market ripe for disruption,” he said.

Every year, consumers spend $36.1 billion on lawn and garden supplies, Gonzalez said.

Gardenio is now accepting pre-orders and plans to send out its first boxes in February of 2018, Gonzalez said. The company is currently fundraising and is looking for key employees in supply chain management and technology.

“This is the right time for a company like this,” Gonzalez said. “We have an opportunity in business to do something that is very rare: to do well and to do good at the same time. To build a profit and lead a movement at the same time. We are the path for the next generation of life-long gardeners because at Gardenio, you don’t have to grow it alone.”

Wes Reddick, founder of Maximus Box, pitched his online retail shop for plus-sized men.

“I’m a former football player, current fashion guru for fat guys,” Reddick said.

Maximus Box sprung out Reddick’s frustration from trying to find clothes that fit his large frame. In the U.S., there are 67 million men with a size 40 waist or larger, Reddick said. They don’t have a dedicated place online to go shopping, he said.

The Maximus Box is a subscription fashion service that sends clothing items directly to the consumer, Reddick said.

So far, Maximus Box has done $160,000 in revenues in 2017, Reddick said. He expects to do at least $175,000 by the end of 2017, he said.

“The more big guys out there hear about us the more we continue to grow,” Reddick said.

Stephanie Labay, the founder of Retreat Place, created a travel and wellness marketplace. It aggregates the wellness retreats worldwide.

Fitness instructors, yoga teachers, and retreat owners can list a place on the marketplace and consumers can book experiences with them online, Labay said. The retreat trips vary between $500 to $5000 with an average price tag of $1,500, she said.

Retreat Place has generated $70,000 in advertising revenue to date, Labay said. It plans to increase its inventory of active retreats from 200 to 1,000 by early next year, she said.

Yogi Patel pitched the startup he founded: iuzeit, a mobile app, and website that serves as a recommendation platform for consumer electronics.

Shambrekia Wise, the founder of FuzeU, created an online education marketplace to connect college students studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Math majors, with mentors in their chosen field in the business world. Next year, Wise plans to launch the platform.

Airion Watkins-Clark, founded WutzGood, a mobile app that provides visual restaurant reviews with video and photos.

“We drive traffic and increase revenue for restaurants through real-time visual content,” Watkins-Clark said. “We enable the restaurateur to regain control of their brand image by publishing Chef’s Table quality moments that truly showcase the experience they have to offer.”

WutzGood has raised a seed round of $80,000 in financing. It is finishing up its minimal viable product and it has 20 restaurants signed up. It is also creating a mobile app. The company is currently fundraising.

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