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Seed Sumo announces their second annual accelerator class

Seed Sumo brings a new energy to Bryan, Texas and to the startup world as they reveal their next class of companies being accelerated.

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Seed Sumo announces their next startup class

Most people know Bryan, Texas as the home of Texas A&M University, but as a Longhorn (hook ’em!), we’re more excited about the city’s bragging rights to international startup accelerator, SeedSumo.

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Today, the accelerator is unveiling their second annual accelerator class, comprised of eight companies that will begin the program on May 20th, and they will participate in for three months. They’ll be exposed to intensive mentoring, business model design, and a twist on demo day for investors.

A super intense review process

Seed Sumo is a new program, and you may remember them from the Hot Pepper Pitch at SXSWi. They narrowed the applicants down to these eight brands through an intense process:

Seed Sumo reviewed 1,227 applications and conducted a series of reviews to get down to its eight startups. The first 700 teams were cut based on lack of team, traction or tired concepts (i.e. workout apps or Uber for anything). Seed Sumo then evaluated a little over 500 teams using a recruiting star system to rank startups by team, market size, traction and idea – similar to what is used in college football. After narrowing this list to 100, Seed Sumo used a Class C Psychometric – a behavior profiling technique used by some of the biggest teams in professional sports. A narrowed down list of 40 were then given “challenges” to see which teams could execute (i.e. A/B tests, conversion goals, pricing tests).  This was followed by video interviews and email Q&As. This brought the list to 16, and the final eight teams were selected as they offered the greatest benefit to Seed Sumo’s network and resources.

Based on this review process, the following eight startups were accepted:

  • TheCarforce is a virtual auto dealership and service center. It provides concierge service for automobiles under warranty, picking up and dropping off the car while providing a loaner to the owner during service.
  • Gripe-O is a customer service platform. Its marketplace addresses complaints and provides resolutions for consumers and businesses.  Simply put, GripeO sees all feedback, even negative sentiment, as an opportunity.
  • Kinskii. is the integration of video chat and gaming to bring families closer together.  It transforms video chat technologies to real world play experiences for military families, travelling parents, separated families, and anyone who is currently dealing with a family lacking communication and engagement.
  • Sleepra the first device to touch-enable your bed.  With a Sleepra tucked under your sheets, you can touch, tap, or swipe gestures on your bed to snooze an alarm, turn on a lamp, adjust a room’s temperature, and control an ever-expanding array of smart home devices from the comfort of bed.
  • Polco is the social network for politics. It gives citizens better platform to engage and politicians real-time, localized policy analysis, while providing digital politic advertisers valuable real estate. (Think Facebook for friends, LinkedIn for professionals, Polco for politics)
  • PrepFlash create’s study aids such as flashcards, multiple choice and True/False quizzes in real time, automatically using cognitive science software similar to what is in SIRI and IBM Watson.  A user supplies the content from an image of a textbook page, PDF file, web page, Microsoft Word Document, class notes from Evernote, or from Kahn Academy videos and PrepFlash automatically quizzes you.
  • PetQuest offers online veterinary advice for Chinese pet owners. A curated selection of veterinarians answer questions about pet health instantly for $5, in a market where veterinarians are not as trusted as in the U.S. and it is difficult to get help quickly.
  • TargetVision is changing the shooting experience with technology. Using a camera that is placed 10 to 15 feet from the target, a video signal is broadcasted back on an iPad or iPhone instead of using a spotting scope.

Seed Sumo’s original class started with $20k each and has gone on to raise almost $4.5MM since graduating.  Some of the companies making headlines nationally are (AskU, Unseen, Gazoo, Fanout, and Sportwip).

Seed Sumo has grown at a rapid pace

New to this year’s Seed Sumo program is additional staffing, which includes nine staff members, two “hackers” to help with all things internet/programming, dedicated mentors that have specific interest in the budding company, a twist on demo day, and more than 4,000 expert advisors are available to the accelerated companies.

The new offerings will complement the perks offered to last year’s participants, which included a dedicated space to work, countless indoor/outdoor meet-up zones scattered throughout campus with multimedia and enough whiteboard to solve the world’s most challenging problems. Not to mention a state of the art R&D lab for scientific pursuits, a full length football field and a complimentary massage once a month in the “chill room” located on campus.

Perks aside, Seed Sumo is bringing a new energy to Bryan, Texas and to the startup world. Keep your eye on the eight companies in their second accelerator class.

#SeedSumo

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Business News

Hobby Lobby increases minimum wage, but how much is just to save face?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Are their efforts to raise their minimum wage to $17/hour sincere, or more about saving face after bungling pandemic concerns?

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Hobby Lobby storefront

The arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby announced this week that they will be raising their minimum full-time wage to $17/hour starting October 1st. This decision makes them the latest big retailer to raise wages during the pandemic (Target raised their minimum wage to $15/hour about three months ago, and Walmart and Amazon have temporarily raised wages). The current minimum wage for Hobby Lobby employees is $15/hour, which was implemented in 2014.

While a $17 minimum wage is a big statement for the company (even a $15 minimum wage cannot be agreed upon on the federal level) – and it is no doubt a coveted wage for the majority of the working class – it’s difficult to not see this move as an attempt to regain public support of the company.

When the pandemic first began, Hobby Lobby – with more than 900 stores and 43,000 employees nationwide – refused to close their stores despite being deemed a nonessential business (subsequently, a Dallas judge accused the company of endangering public health).

In April, Hobby Lobby furloughed almost all store employees and the majority of corporate and distribution employees without notice. They also ended emergency leave pay and suspended the use of company-provided paid time off benefits for employees during the furloughs – a decision that was widely criticized by the public, although the company claims the reason for this was so that employees would be able to take full advantage of government handouts during their furlough.

However, the furloughs are not Hobby Lobby’s first moment under fire. The Oklahoma-based Christian company won a 2014 Supreme Court case – the same year they initially raised their minimum wage – that granted them the right to deny their female employees insurance coverage for contraceptives.

Also, Hobby Lobby settled a federal complaint in 2017 that accused them of purchasing upwards of 5,000 looted ancient Iraqi artifacts, smuggled through the United Arab Emirates and Israel – which is simultaneously strange, exploitative, and highly controversial.

Why does this all matter? While raising their minimum wage to $17 should be regarded as a step in the right direction regarding the overall treatment of employees (and, hopefully, $17 becomes the new standard), Hobby Lobby is not without reason to seek favorable public opinion, especially during a pandemic. Yes, we should be quick to condone the action of increasing minimum wage, but perhaps be a little skeptical when deeming a company “good” or “bad”.

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Business News

RIP office culture: How work from home is destroying the economy

(BUSINESS NEWS) It’s not just your empty office left behind: Work from home is drastically changing cities’ economies in more ways than you think.

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An empty meeting room, unfilled by work from home employees.

It’s been almost six months since the U.S. went into lockdown due to COVID-19 and the CDC’s subsequent safety guidelines were issued – it’s safe to say that it is not business as usual. Everyone from restaurant waitstaff to start-up executives have been affected by the shift to work-from-home. Even as restrictions slowly begin to lift, it seems as though the office workspace – regarded as the vital venue for the U.S. economy – will never truly be the same.

Though economists have been focusing largely on small businesses and start-ups, we are only just beginning to understand the impact that not going back into the white-collar office will have on the economy.

The industries that support white-collar office culture in major cities have become increasingly emaciated. The coffee shops, food trucks, and food delivery companies that catered to the white-collar workforce before, during, and after their workday, are no longer in high demand (Starbucks reported a loss of $2 billion this year, which they attribute to Zoomification). Airlines have also been affected as business travel typically accounts for 60%-70% of all air travel.

Also included are high-end hotels, which accommodate the traveling business class. Pharmacies, florists, and gyms located in business districts have become ghost towns. Office supplies companies, such as Xerox, have suffered. Workwear brands such as J. Crew and Brooks Brothers have filed for bankruptcy, as there is no longer a need to dress for the office.

In Manhattan – arguably the country’s most notorious white-collar business mecca – at least 1,200 restaurants have been permanently lost. It is also is predicted that the one-third of all small businesses will close.

Additionally, the borough is facing twice as many apartment vacancies as this time last year, due to the flight of workers no longer tied to midtown offices. Workers have realized their freedom to seek more affordable and spacious residence outside the city. As companies decentralize from cities and rent prices drop, it isn’t all bad news. There is promise that particular urban white-collar neighborhoods will start to become accessible to the working class once again.

Some companies, like Pinterest and REI, are reporting that their shift to work from home is in fact permanent. The long-term effects of deserted office buildings are yet to make themselves evident. What we do know is that the decline of the white-collar office will force us to reimagine the great American cities – with so much lost due to the coronavirus, what can now be gained?

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Business News

2020 Black Friday shopping may break the mold

(BUSINESS NEWS) Home Depot states their new plan for deals and discounts over two months, in place of a 1-day Black Friday event.

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Men shopping in an empty aisle, Black Friday to come?

Humans change and adapt – that’s just in our nature. Retail stores have struggled to maintain their sales goals for years as more and more people move to ordering online. Online prices still seem to be within customer expectations and often come with free shipping. Additionally, people that may have preferred to shop in an actual brick-and-mortar store have changed their shopping habits dramatically in 2020; it’s hard to social distance and be safe in crowded stores or in small aisles. Black Friday may be next to change.

Amazon and other big box store’s online ordering platforms have simplified getting what you need delivered right to your front door. According to Statista, “Amazon was responsible for 45% of US e-commerce spending in 2019 – a figure which is expected to rise to 47% in 2020.”

Retailers count on the holiday season, specifically Black Friday deals (the day after Thanksgiving), to bring in up to 20% of their annual revenue. It’s hard to just remove that option completely. But considering the times of social distancing, wearing masks in public, and especially avoiding large crowds, the tradition of Black Friday will need to look different this year.

It will also be interesting to see what supply chain disruptions from early 2020 will have the most effect this shopping season. We saw predictions in March that said the United States would see the biggest disruptions in about six months. Black Friday falls right on that timeline.

Home Depot has announced their plans to go ahead and give the deals over a two month span, starting in early November through December (both online and in stores with the possibility of adding some special deals around the actual Black Friday date) to help encourage a more steady stream of shoppers versus so many packing in on the same day.

The home improvement chain has actually seen a great sales year. This is likely due to people working from home and being interested in doing more home projects (and possibly having a bit more time to do them as well). As of May 2020, “The Home Depot®, the world’s largest home improvement retailer, today reported sales of $28.3 billion for the first quarter of fiscal 2020, a 7.1 percent increase from the first quarter of fiscal 2019. Comparable sales for the first quarter of fiscal 2020 were positive 6.4 percent, and comparable sales in the U.S. were positive 7.5 percent.”

Home Depot, along with many other retailers like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy have confirmed that they will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, which may not be new for all of them but has always signaled the kickoff of the holiday shopping season.

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