Whether it’s a problem that demands solving or an inconvenience that needs a fix, most startups begin with a belief that something can be done better, faster, or cheaper. North Texas is a hotbed for entrepreneurs who leverage innovation to do just that. Here are five startups we believe are worth watching in 2019, as they grow, secure funding, take on fresh challenges, and enter new markets.
Parking and the Connected World
George Baker wants to change how people pay for parking at sporting events and concerts. His company, ParkHub takes parking into the digital age. “Parking historically has been such a cash-heavy business,” says Baker, founder and CEO. “But cash is analog.”
Launched in 2010, ParkHub revolutionized parking at AT&T Stadium by allowing credit card transactions and giving fans the ability to purchase parking ahead of time. Jerry Jones invested in the company, and it expanded to American Airlines Center, Globe Life Park, and other big venues around the country.
Just as important as cashless transactions, the platform tracks and provides data to parking lot operators. ParkHub plans to offer its services to hotels, office buildings, universities, casinos, mixed-use centers, and shopping malls—anywhere there’s a parking challenge.
To date, the Dallas-based startup has raised a total of $6.7 million, with the latest equity round coming in July 2016. Baker says ParkHub will be at the forefront of smart city technology, using sensors to detect parking availability and send that information to your vehicle. “We are disrupting the way that the parking transaction is being conducted,” he says. “The connected world is being assembled as we speak, and there’s communication from devices to vehicles. We are that enablement and that connection point.”
Helping Nonprofits Focus on Their Missions
Andrew Snow has always had a heart for nonprofits. But he was dismayed at the lack of innovation he found within them. In his mind, the entire nonprofit world was in desperate need of technological disruption.
Snow’s solution was to take the experience he gained fundraising for Southern Methodist University and combine it with his business partner’s banking expertise The result is Track15, a startup that handles behind-the-scenes business development for nonprofits. It was formed by Snow and former Chase executive Chris Shultz. Both serve as managing partners.
“The lack of business acumen that nonprofits have—that’s what brought us together,” Snow says. “We believe the relationship between the donor and the mission are what’s important for a sustainable nonprofit model.”
Formed in August 2017, Track15 works behind the scenes, equipping organizations with tools they need to produce exceptional meetings and programs that bring in revenue. “They’ve been in a rut of doing things the same way for a long time,” Snow says. “We take them from zero to 60 very quickly.”
In the coming year, Track15 aims to work with larger nonprofits, hire additional employees, and enter a new market: the for-profit space. The co-managing partners found that many of Track15’s business development skills are valuable to other startups, too.
“We want to be part of the daily operations, working hand-in-hand with clients, so we’re partners with them and proving our value to them on a daily basis,” Snow says.
Teleporting Seniors Back to the Past
Through volunteer activities, Chris Brickler had seen first-hand the sense of isolation, depression, and fear that seniors often experience when they live alone or in nursing facilities. Many of them also suffer from memory loss or other cognitive issues.
Brickler, whose has managed everything from startups and nonprofits to large business units for Verizon, British Telecom, and AT&T, was in a position to help. So when he was approached by MyndVR co-founder Shawn Wiora, he came up with a platform that leverages virtual reality for seniors.
MyndVR uses 360-degree cameras to capture experiences and share them with residents in nursing homes. For example, they’ve filmed a live band playing Frank Sinatra with the musicians and a crowd full of actors dressed in 1950s clothing, putting the user in the front row.
“We’re teleporting them from their four walls of existence into an unbelievable, fantastic environment,” says Brickler, co-founder and CEO. “They get to hear and see it, so they resonate with it in a way that’s so powerful and heartwarming.”
Most virtual reality platforms focus on first-person shooter games. MyndVR focuses entirely on the senior population. Nursing facilities subscribe to MyndVR to get hardware and programming, including nature scenes, vacation spots, and a pianist performing classical songs from the last four centuries.
As it continues to grow, MyndVR wants to expand across North America and Europe. It’s an easy turnkey solution that can be scaled quickly, Brickler says. He also wants to partner with universities to study if virtual reality can help people with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and other problems.
“This is a very powerful medium that we’re just now getting our head around,” Brickler says.
Maximizing Employee Productivity
Workers are pulled between multiple applications and tasks throughout the day, which ultimately means a big hit to a company’s bottom line. But finding exactly where that time goes can be a challenge. Claire Haidar believes machine learning can help.
She’s the CEO of WNDYR, a subscription service that analyzes workers’ tasks throughout the day, looking at how they use various software as a service (SaaS) programs, email, and other applications.
“Technology has been fragmented, so it’s been hard to correlate that data,” Haidar says. “Our technology enables us to understand work at this level. People are only working two to three hours a day with all the distracted elements, meetings, and catching up on emails. We’re enabling people to understand their own behavior in order to maximize what they’re doing.”
WNDYR splits work into five buckets: meetings, tasks, communications, documents, and time.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a CEO or an engineer grinding away inside a five-person startup,” Haidar says. “Is that the most productive use of their time or should they be expending their efforts elsewhere?”
Launched in November 2015, WNDYR has secured a total of $1.8 million in funding. The company has grown fast, with about 30 employees and 4,000 customers. WNDYR aims to double that in 2019, Haidar says.
Furnishing Millennial Apartments
Growing up as a military brat, moving was a way of life for Cameron Johnson. He continued to hop around a lot in his 20s, and became intimately familiar with the challenges of lugging furniture from one apartment to the next. The frustrations led him to develop Nickson, a mobile app that provides customized furniture to renters.
“You can effortlessly transform an empty apartment into a fully-furnished home at the click of a button,” Johnson says. “We literally install everything you need to live, including the flatscreen TV, so it looks like a model apartment.”
The company, which targets millennials, was founded in Dallas in 2017 with a warehouse full of furniture. Users take an online quiz to determine their style preferences, from shabby chic to dark masculine. They pay a monthly subscription charge, which ranges from $199 for a studio apartment to $599 for a three-bedroom.
The concept caught so well, Nickson soon ran out of inventory, outfitting apartments in downtown Dallas, Uptown, Oak Lawn, Knox Henderson, and the Farmers Market area. Nickson was technically in stealth mode in 2018, but word-of-mouth led to a waiting list of customers.
“We’ve been trying to catch up with demand ever since we started,” Johnson says.
He has been raising capital and plans to officially launch Nickson in 2019. The funding will allow the platform to do bulk purchasing of furniture. The business has 10 employees, mostly in Dallas, and uses about 20 or so contractors for web development, video production, marketing, and other needs.
Nicholas Sakelaris is a North Texas freelance journalist who covers technology and other leading industries.