The Future 5 of Austin Tech
Sure, the latest initiatives from the Teslas, Apples and Googles of the industry tend to dominate the tech news space — and with good reason. Still, the big guns aren’t the only ones bringing innovation to the sector.
In an effort to highlight up-and-coming startups, Built In is launching The Future 5 across eight major U.S. tech hubs. Each quarter, we will feature five tech startups, nonprofits or entrepreneurs in each of these hubs who just might be working on the next big thing.
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Austin’s tech scene has been rapidly growing for the past several years with several big-name companies relocating to the area or opening local offices including Oracle, Tesla and TripActions. But what about the newcomers? Silicon Hills is full of buzz-worthy tech startups ranging from hair care innovation to fitness apps and teletherapy.
Built In spoke with a handful of these local change-makers and it’s clear these entrepreneurs are the future of Austin.
Blended Sense (Professional Services)
The need for businesses to stand out has never been greater. As competition grows and businesses look online to gain new customers, branding and timing are critical. But finding talented photographers or videographers is often expensive and time-consuming for mom-and-pop businesses. That’s why Albert Baez, Abigail Rose Baez and Georgina Elizondo launched Blended Sense.
Founded in 2019, Blended Sense uses an algorithm to connect photographers, videographers and other creatives with local small businesses in need of digital assets. Blended Sense is a new approach to production, Elizondo told Built In.
The whole vision here is to activate these creative communities and then stimulate that local economy.”
“We like to call it a new kind of production because you have a production industry and you have content industry, and we’re sort of somewhere in the middle where we’re creating a new path and forging that new path,” she said.
Prior to launching the startup, Albert Baez worked as a salesman, Abigail Rose Baez was an actress and Elizondo was a photographer. Both Abigail Rose Baez and Elizondo had a hard time finding steady work and Albert Baez noticed there wasn’t a company or product focused on producing assets for small businesses.
“So we built a platform, where all the pre- and all the post-production happens on the platform, including the matching of the creatives using our matching algorithm,” Albert Baez, president of Blended Sense, said. “And it’s all run by an internal producer, who acts as the creative liaison between the small business owner and the creative professional.”
Not only does Blended Sense connect creatives and local businesses, but it also allows businesses to store, tag and label content on one dashboard making it easy to find when needed.
“The whole vision here is to activate these creative communities and then stimulate that local economy” by keeping work local, Albert Baez said.
Blended Sense has 15 employees, and paid more than $250,000 to creatives in 2020. The startup currently serves Austin and Dallas-Fort Worth with plans to launch in New York City and Miami soon.
Lukas Simianer found his calling when a company he worked for was being sued for not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Simianer, who’s a software engineer, stepped in to help. He got his stepfather, who is blind, on the payroll and began working with him to find and solve breaks in code. This spurred the idea for Clusiv, an e-learning platform with job-specific training for the blind and visually impaired.
“I realized that one, engineering for disabled folks is really not that hard, you just got to have the empathy and the insight to understand that going through with a digital experience,” Simianer told Built In. “What really spurred this entire business was my stepdad looked at me and he said, ‘Luke, for the first time in my life, I feel like intellectually valued since I lost my sight.’”
Simianer said prior to Clusiv, training for visually impaired individuals took place in person and didn’t teach them how to use complicated systems. The company’s first job training program, which will begin in November, will focus on sales development representatives.
We seek to be the very first tech company that really rallies the visually impaired and blind troops, if you will, and become the solution house for them.”
This young startup has 12 employees, including seven visually impaired engineers. To date, Clusiv has raised funding from startup competitions, including the Austin Young Chamber’s Fast Start Social Impact Pitch and Rice University’s Veterans Business Battle. Simianer said he plans to raise a seed round in the future.
“We seek to be the very first tech company that really rallies the visually impaired and blind troops, if you will, and become the solution house for them,” he said.
With the goal of enhancing access and reducing cost barriers to speech therapy, Leanne Sherred, Nick Barbara, Spencer Magloff and Ryan Hinojosa launched Expressable, an online speech therapy provider for children. Founded in late 2019, Expressable’s platform matches children and families with a licensed speech therapist and allows for recurring sessions between the three parties. The platform also features synchronous support and techniques outside of each session.
“At the end of the day, this whole concept of parent engagement and education is the key nut that we want to crack in this industry,” Barbara, Expressable’s CEO, told Built In. “There are decades of research to show in speech therapy that the most efficacious way to improve pediatric outcomes is to engage parents. But I think there’s been a lot of structural constraints placed on the industry, placed on traditional settings, that have prevented the type of innovation in this field.”
Last year, Expressable saw rapid growth as more people turned to telemedicine due to the pandemic. The company’s growth last year proved the need for Expressable and the need to continue building and scaling the platform, said Sherred, a speech-language pathologist and the company’s chief clinical officer.
Currently, Expressable offers a subscription-based model with clients paying out of pocket, but hopes to move into commercial and public insurance. Over the next few months, the company plans to partner with insurance companies in New York, Florida, Texas and California to provide pediatric speech therapy sessions.
At the end of the day, this whole concept of parent engagement and education is the key nut that we want to crack in this industry.”
Since launching, Expressable’s 70-person team has served thousands of individuals and families. The company also raised a $4.5 million seed round in May to “double down and invest” in employees and Expressable’s app, Barbara said. The startup is actively hiring SLPs and content developers.
“We really believe in this model of asynchronous support as a way to promote carryover of skills learned in therapy. We really wanted to invest in the tech and the content development in order to really make that vision a full reality and really solve this problem of how do we as effectively as possible educate parents,” Barbara said. “While there are many parents that have a ton of time to dedicate and learn these techniques, there are also a lot of parents that are really tight on their schedules and we need to get very good at figuring out how to make this learning as approachable for those types of families as possible to make the type of impact that we want to.”
When Sylvia Kampshoff moved to the U.S. in 2014, she was working crazy hours as an attorney with little flexibility in her schedule. Yet, she wanted to stay in shape with the help of a personal trainer. After unsuccessfully looking for a trainer that fit into her busy schedule, Kampshoff came up with her own solution — Kanthaka, an app-based platform where people can schedule a personal trainer or yoga instructor.
“[I] could not find an easy scheduling tool for a vetted trainer,” Kampshoff told Built In via email. “My only option back then was to get a trainer at a big box gym. I only had one fixed time slot a day without any flexibility to move session times around or try different trainers until I find the one I like. Also canceling was not client-friendly, and I lost a lot of time traveling to the gym and money paying the gym membership in addition to the personal training fee. I couldn’t stop thinking that there must be a better way to make one-on-one training affordable and accessible to everybody.”
I couldn’t stop thinking that there must be a better way to make one-on-one training affordable and accessible to everybody.”
Kampshoff began working on Kanthaka in 2017. Today, the company is dual headquartered in Houston and Austin with vetted trainers available in 15 cities. One-on-one sessions can take place at a home, park or apartment gym eliminating the need to pay for a gym membership. Virtual sessions are also available.
“We want to make training with us as easy and flexible as possible giving our clients the option to cancel and move around sessions up to three hours in advance of the session,” Kampshoff said.
To date, Kanthaka has sold more than 12,000 personal training and one-on-one yoga sessions, and racked up approximately 1,000 clients.
“Our big goal is to get to 10,000 monthly personal training sessions within a year from now and expand into all major U.S. cities,” Kampshoff said. “To enable us to hit our growth goals we are looking into raising an institutional round by the end of the year.”
In the meantime, Kanthaka is actively raising capital through a crowdfunding campaign. Funds from the campaign will be used for marketing efforts and to expand the company’s 15-person team. The startup is actively hiring for several personal trainers.
Future plans for Kanthaka include expanding into Seattle, Philadelphia and Denver by August. Ultimately, Kampshoff said she wants to create a holistic platform for people who want to live a longer, happier and healthier life.
As technology continues to advance, it seems that data also finds its way into our everyday lives. Data is used to customize skincare products and now, thanks to Remane, hair care routines.
Remane is a data-driven and membership-based hair care platform. Members answers questions about their hair, hair goals and current routine. This data is then used to map out the biology of a customer’s hair and provide customized routine and product suggestions. A free Remane account gives customers access to basic hair care information and a sneak peek at a suggested routine. Members can also upgrade for $60 a year or $7 a month and receive access to more than 30 hair care guides, full access to a customized regimen with optional text alerts and access to a Remane group chat for additional advice.
Our goal is to holistically look at hair care and hair health beyond just assessing, ‘Is your hair looking dull or shiny today?’”
The Austin-based startup launched in 2019 when co-founders Ariel Lee and D’azhane Cook were attending the University of Texas.
“Hair has always been a big part of my identity. I’ve had every color of hair that you could imagine from purple to pink to green to blue,” Lee told Built In. “I remember when I first came to college, it was just very stressful to learn how to style my hair when previously if I wanted to get my hair done, I had to go to a hairdresser.”
In a product management class, Lee and D’azhane had to pitch a business idea. After discussing their hair struggles, they came up with the idea for Remane. Now, the company has 100 active users and is primarily used with Black women between the ages of 18 and 35 who are either already rocking natural hair or are experimenting with going natural, D’azhane told Built In.
Lee and D’azhane work on Remane part-time but hope to work on the startup full-time in the future.
“Our goal is to holistically look at hair care and hair health beyond just assessing, ‘Is your hair looking dull or shiny today,’” Lee said. “Our ultimate goal is to be able to do this full-time, to scale this into a billion-dollar company and to fill the gaps in the data industry within the hair care product category so that hair care is a lot more informed by users’ actual needs rather than qualitative marketing and trends.”