The Future 5 of Austin Tech, Q1 2022
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 has launched The Future 5 across 11 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. You can check out last year’s round-ups here.
2021 was a big year for Austin. Five companies reached unicorn status, seven companies opened offices here and 13 companies — most notably, Tesla — relocated their headquarters here.
As we set our sights on 2022, though, it’s clear there are a lot of hidden gems in the Silicon Hills of Austin. These up-and-coming companies haven’t reached their Series A yet, but these early-stage companies are poised to disrupt, innovate and grow in 2022.
BUILT IN’S FUTURE 5 UP-AND-COMING AUSTIN STARTUPS, Q1 2022
- Fetii (Ride-Sharing)
- Flourish (Healthtech)
- Ladder (Fitness Tech)
- The Mentor Method (HR Tech)
- ThisWay Global (HR Tech)
A night out on the town with a big group of friends or coworkers can be fun, but the logistics of finding a ride to restaurants or bars can be a real buzzkill.
Ride-hailing services like UberXL and LyftXL only allow up to five people per vehicle, which forces big groups to split up and take multiple vehicles. There are charter shuttle and bus services available, but those companies often require advanced scheduling and charge a three-hour minimum.
Two 24-year-old entrepreneurs, Matthew Iommi and Justin Rath, decided to launch their own group-focused rideshare services that could keep groups together while reducing carbon emissions and traffic congestion.
“Our platform brings the convenience of rideshare with the experience of charter transportation,” Iommi told Built In.
Their company is called Fetii, which according to Iommi, is a word used in the South Pacific region to describe one’s extended family.
Fetii launched in February 2020 with a beta launch in College Station, the home of Iommi’s alma mater Texas A&M. The pandemic sidelined the business, but the company rebounded and launched in Austin — another college town — in September 2021.
Iommi, the company’s CEO, said most of Fetii’s clients are college students going out in groups. The app also appeals to companies organizing events for their employees.
Fetii has a fleet of 30 vehicles, including 25 15-passenger vans and a few 30-passenger shuttle buses in the College Station market.
Fetii doesn’t own its vehicles. Some drivers already own a van, bus or a fleet of vans and buses. For those drivers that don’t own a large van or bus, they are able to rent one from a rental company that has a partnership with Fetii.
Fetii lets users order on-demand rides or schedule a ride in advance. The Fetii app automatically splits the bill and allows riders to pay their portion of the fare via QR code. Iommi said Fetii’s fares are less expensive than other ridesharing apps, averaging $5 per person.
Last year, Fetii conducted 21,556 trips transporting 167,954 passengers.
The company, which has five full-time employees, recently raised a pre-seed round and is raising another seed round with hopes of expanding to new markets, such as Dallas, San Antonio, Houston and Nashville.
After more than a decade of dieting and struggling with her body image, Claire Siegel realized that counting calories was not the answer to her problems.
Joining Weight Watchers at the age of 13, Siegel told Built In she became accustomed to “using exercise and food in a bartering system.” In her early twenties, though, she realized that dieting did not make her the healthy, happy person she aspired to be.
“I found myself in a place where I was less confident and more unhealthy — mentally, physically and emotionally — than ever,” she said.
We’ve lost our ability to listen to our bodies and to respond appropriately.”
Siegel, a registered dietician, decided in 2018 to leave her job at Snap Kitchen, a healthy meal subscription service, to launch her own company that could help women break the diet cycle and sustain healthy habits.
“I think through the diet mentality, a lot of us have really lost our way,” she said. “We’ve lost our ability to listen to our bodies and to respond appropriately to our bodies.”
Upon launching Flourish, Siegel, now 30, met many women who had gone through similar struggles.
“I started realizing that this is a much bigger problem than I alone as a dietitian can really solve,” she said. “That’s when we started thinking about leveraging technology to achieve scale to positively impact the lives of thousands or even millions of women.”
Flourish membership includes access to credentialed nutrition and psychology experts, weekly group coaching, community support and educational modules on topics such as blood sugar management and body image.
Instead of daily weigh-ins, Flourish is more focused on improvements in physiological measures, such as blood pressure and physical activity, as well as self-esteem and body image.
“They do want to eat nutritious foods and move their bodies, but not do so in a way that feels so rigid and obsessive,” she said.
Flourish went through the Techstars accelerator in early 2020, and has raised more than $1 million in seed funding.
More than 2,300 women have signed up for Flourish’s waitlist. The company opened up the platform to people on the waitlist in September, and Siegel said it will remain invite-only until the public launch in early 2022.
Ladder (Fitness Tech)
When the pandemic closed fitness facilities around the country, many gym-goers found themselves struggling to maintain their workout regimen without the guidance, support and resources of their fitness community.
Ladder, which was conceived before the pandemic but launched in July 2020, has tried to recreate the sense of community offered at the gym through video workouts led and designed by industry-leading fitness coaches.
The app is particularly unique in that it offers an interactive group chat, where members can encourage each other, compare notes and hold each other accountable.
As gyms have reopened, Ladder has found that many users who don’t have the time to plan their own workout routine have continued to use the platform for its fresh workout videos.
Ladder CEO Greg Stewart told Built In that, although the market is flooded with fitness apps, there was a gap among regular gym-goers who didn’t have time to research workout routines, but also didn’t have the time or money to hire a physical trainer.
Users can choose from eight different trainers who design workouts based on specific fitness levels and goals, whether that’s kettle bell flows, banded weight training or high-intensity interval training.
“It’s very different than than most other companies in this space that provide all of this content, almost like a Netflix model,” Stewart said. “With Ladder, you’re joining a program with a coach that is programming specific workouts that tie together and are progressive based on your goals.”
The strength training workouts include video demonstrations of every movement, in-your-ear coaching and precise timing and pacing for each workout. Users can also send a video to their coach, who can check to see if they are doing the workout with correct form.
Ladder’s monthly memberships cost $30 per month for the workout programming and $45 per month to include one-on-one coaching and two form checks per month.
Ladder, which received $6.5 million in seed funding in November, has 17 employees, all but three of which live in Austin. All of the app’s videos are shot on the ground floor of Ladder’s office building just south of downtown Austin.
The Mentor Method (HR Tech)
Janice Omadeke’s parents emigrated from the Democratic Republic of the Congo when she was a young girl, and like most immigrant children, they ingrained in her a strong work ethic and a desire to succeed in the U.S.
When she reached corporate America, though, Omadeke was frustrated as she saw her male colleagues build relationships and gain insight from male managers on the golf course or over beers.
Whenever she signed up for career mentorship programs, though, she was always matched with another woman or a person of color. She wishes she would have been paired more intentionally, taking into consideration her career goals and her personality.
You have to have something to anchor to, to build that meaningful connection.”
Later, when she worked as the manager of the marketing and sales division for PricewaterhouseCoopers, she was tasked with matching people for her team’s mentorship program. She looked online to see if she could find a tech solution to inclusively match people beyond demographics, but she couldn’t find anything.
You have to have something to anchor to, to build that meaningful connection, to feel vulnerable enough to share where your career challenges are,”
That’s when Omadeke created the first iteration of The Mentor Method, quit her six-figure job and moved to Austin in April 2018 for the MassChallenge accelerator program. She was so impressed with Austin she decided to stay and build The Mentor Method here.
Nearly four years later, Omadeke, 34, has grown her company to 11 full-time employees. In June 2021, The Mentor Method raised $1.4 million in seed funding, bringing its total fundraising to $1.6 million.
The Mentor Method’s software uses a double-blind algorithm to match mentors and mentees based on key parameters. The software also guides mentors and mentees through the framework of a mentorship pairing that can last anywhere from four months to one year. The facilitator of the mentorship program tracks data about the outcomes of the mentorship.
The company’s enterprise software is used by Deloitte, Amazon, the Department of Education and Lincoln Financial Group.
As the company as evolved, Omadeke said the company’s mission has expanded from diversity and inclusion to future of work topics, such as identifying talent, talent retention and talent development.
“Our focus within (the future of work) is how are people relating to their company cultures,” Omadeke said. “How are they relating to one another? How are companies retaining and developing that talent? And how do we make sure that people aren’t lost in the cracks simply because you don’t see them at the water cooler every day?”
ThisWay Global (HR Tech)
When Angela Hood started applying for construction management jobs after college, she realized the only way to get employers to call her back in the male-dominated field was to use her first and middle initials, “A.L.”
After 20 years in the construction industry and hearing stories from people across all industries, Hood decided to create a software solution that would level the playing field for candidates and help employers find the most qualified candidates regardless of an employer’s unconscious biases.
In 2014, she launched ThisWay Global, which has developed artificial intelligence to match people to jobs without regard to age, ethnicity, gender or other biases.
The company’s software redacts personal information like names and other information that might trigger an unconscious bias for the hiring manager.
The software also neutralizes job descriptions and prioritizes necessary skills over jargon or information about the company. By identifying the necessary skills, the software is able to identify candidates that might not fit the traditional mold but have developed transferable skills.
“Our technology is automatically doing this in the background,” Hood said. “It’s running all kinds of A/B tests and doing a lot of work that people don’t have time to do and is also very hard for us to do as humans.”
Companies that want to recruit more diverse candidates reach out to ThisWay Global, which has developed a network of 3,500 — soon to be 5,000 — organizations like trade unions, alumni associations and other organizations with diverse memberships.
ThisWay Global contacts the best matches from its diverse network of passive job-seekers and invites them to apply. If these candidates apply, they will show up in the employer’s ranking system, where they will be evaluated equally alongside existing candidates.
Some companies, usually smaller businesses, will access the diverse network of candidates through ThisWay Global’s software. Larger companies will usually decide to integrate ThisWay Global’s software into their existing platform via a library of 650 APIs.
The company plans to partner with a large company next month that will automatically integrate it into an even wider network of HR platforms.
ThisWay Global is one of 12 North American companies admitted into the 2021 Google Startup Accelerator program for women founders.
The company has 15 employees, and Hood said she expects to double her workforce to 30 employees this year. The company has raised $6 million in seed funding, and is currently raising a Series A.