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There were more nominees from Austin than any other Texas city. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
After yet another year of uncertainty for small businesses, local entrepreneurs still prevailed and continued to adapt to the world around them. Of the thousands of small business owners in Austin, 23 were named on Forbes’ Next 1000 list
The Next 1000 list is a year-round showcase for America’s small businesses and sole proprietors with under $10 million in revenue. The list is fueled by nominations to create four seasonal installments of 250 people redefining what business means to them. The list is still accepting nominees for the next installment.
More Austin-based companies were named than any other Texas city, though Dallas comes out on top if you include the full metro area of Fort Worth and Frisco, with 24 businesses.
Meet the entrepreneurs from Austin:
After more than 10 years of consulting, Adefela started architecture and design firm Exp.Design at the onset of the pandemic and quickly scored big with her first client, Apple’s Inclusion and Diversity team.
Interstride was inspired in 2016 by the real-life experiences of Agrawal and cofounder Christian Eder, who moved to the U.S. several years back to pursue higher education. The result: an interactive portal to help close the opportunity gap for international students by putting community, job opportunities and visa guidance all in one place. Now, Interstride is used at more than 150 universities, including Duke University and UT Austin.
Austin-based company Source Craft Cocktails spurred to life after the COVID-19 pandemic rendered the bar industry inoperable for months with luxe cocktails delivered to your door. Source Craft Cocktails now serves more than 900,000 customers per day in 10 cities and holds virtual happy hours, called “Sourced Socials.”
Along with cofounder Luis Gringas, Arias started digital learning platform Beereaders to help close the reading comprehension gap among Spanish-speaking students. The platform has helped 135,000 students improve in their native language and has raised more than $2 million in venture capital funding.
Farm-to-table meal delivery service Prep to Your Door was founded by Emerson after wrapping up a fashion career in New York City and cashing out her 401k savings. Though the service only delivers in Austin and Houston for now, the company has plans to expand nationally by 2024 and has doubled its revenue every year since it began.
Cofounded by Ghogomu, Tony Malveaux and Darren Smith, Tradeblock offers a social marketplace for sneaker collectors with barter-based transactions. Now with more than 38,000 users and 180,000 pairs of shoes, Tradeblock charges a service fee of up to $60 for sales.
Another clean eating company, Proper Good isn’t Jane’s first entrepreneurial endeavor. Proper Good started in 2020, eight years after Jane’s organic condiment company Montana Mex, and offers pre-made meals for all types of diets through its e-commerce platform.
As the former head of Music App Partnerships at Google, Kelleher ordered vinyls to sell as merch for an indie band she managed and received them months too late. The late delivery inspired Kelleher to start Gold Rush Vinyl, making the manufacturing process three times faster than the industry standard with energy-efficient practices.
Personalized hair care company Remane is aiming to disrupt the Black hair care industry by offering personalized recommendations driven by machine learning to those with natural hair. Since starting the company in her junior year of college in 2018, Lee has received funding from Target Accelerators and Blackstone x Techstars.
At just 21 years old, Li started V2 admissions to help students achieve top-level university acceptance. With its master class on college applications, 150 clients and a three-step approach, V2 Admissions boasts that more than 95% of enrolled students attended one of their top three university choices.
Marcos is a serial entrepreneur who has founded several companies, including Hispanic-serving mortgage lender Unika Mortgage. Most recently, Marcos founded the Growth Institute, an executive coaching company with master classes and online programming. Growth Institute says it helps mid-market companies “scale up with less drama.”
In the pandemic sphere, a trip to the grocery store can be a formidable task, especially while many home cooks are searching for local alternatives in the kitchen. Niiro’s company MilkRun gives consumers a marketplace to buy produce, dairy and meats from local farmers and has since expanded to Portland and Seattle on top of Austin.
After having her home burglarized by some renters in 2017, O’Connell started Golightly, a members-only home-sharing platform in 2020. Now with more than 7,000 members in 90 countries, Golightly offers an online and offline community for members to connect.
Having already raised over $1.5 million in seed funding, The Mentor Method is a reinvigoration of tired corporate mentorship programs and has clients like Deloitte and Chegg. Omadeke did this by creating a double-blind algorithm that matches mentors and mentees, combating unconscious bias and helping increase workplace retention.
Pinkston wants kids to be just as cozy at nighttime as their parents, so she created La Paloma, a children’s and women’s loungewear with garments made from 100% cotton. Now, La Paloma has more than 700 customers including Molly Sims and Meena Harris.
After spending 15 years in the entertainment sphere, Porter created Mod Tech Labs in 2020 to fill a need for realistic content. The business uses machine learning to speed up digital content detailing.
Giving women more agency in the auto industry, Reiss founded A Girls Guide to Cars in 2013 and has since gained a digital audience of more than 2 million. Reiss works with brands like Volkswagen, Lexus, Toyota and Cooper Tire while giving car tips on her blog.
Working as COO at Xeris Pharmaceuticals, Sabharwal discovered that data management issues delayed product manufacturing and medical availability. Sabharwal cofounded CherryCircle with partner Ryan Shillington to help bridge the gap, accelerate treatments and provide products to patients at cheaper price points. CherryCircle has since raised $4.6 million in funding.
Giving teachers tools to create the classroom resources they need, Sampson founded the company in 2015 for educators teaching grades 3-12. Argument-Driven Inquiry provides instructional materials for science, engineering and math teachers through a browser-based application
After a lifelong skincare struggle, Smith started premium care line Disco to give men comfort and confidence in buying skin products. His face cleanser, eye cream, face masks and more are sold at Nordstrom with gender-neutral packaging. The company has raised over $5 million in funding and around $10 million in revenue.
When Stern launched a virtual events company in 2018, he didn’t expect the custom boxes to morph into his main offering just two years later. When the pandemic hit, Stern began to offer more than 100 types of packages to help onboard employees, foster business growth and build business relationships. Custom Box Agency made $450,000 in revenue in 2020.
A former college basketball player, Udenenwu began experimenting with pancakes for his coworkers while working at a Mexican restaurant. The experience led him to start the first deluxe pancake food truck in 2019, offering toppings like pecans, raspberries, bacon and cookie butter. Since, JP’s Pancake has served more than 20,000 customers.
With a mission for bringing equal opportunity to the world of investing, four-time entrepreneur Lauren Washington created Fundr in 2020. Fundr is an online marketplace that automates seed investing by creating portfolios of AI-vetted startups for angel investors and institutional VCs—the company tested the algorithm at the Black Women Talk Tech pitch competition and correctly predicted the winner.
Austin has seen some legendary musicians rise to fame in its embrace—none other than Janis Joplin, Roky Erikson, Willie Nelson, Gary Clark Jr., Bob Schneider and Shakey Graves have called the city home.
Austin’s live music scene has rivaled those of much bigger cities like New York and Los Angeles, earning the title “Live Music Capital of the World,” in 1991 when it was discovered that the city had the most live music venues per capita in the nation.
The reputation is so strong, it continues to draw up-and-coming musicians from all over the world to this day. So what makes Austin worthy of holding the Live Music Capital of the World title?
According to these artists, who all come from outside city limits, there are layers to Austin’s “magic.”
A post shared by king mønk (@mikemelinoe)
Mike Melinoe started making music at the young age of 7 in Detroit, Michigan. He had a musical family and grew up listening to jazz and gospel music, influenced by the “mecca for so many different sounds” that was his hometown.
Though he would visit to promote his hip-hop music, hand out CDs at SXSW and visit his girlfriend at the time, Melinoe never had any intention of moving to Austin until one day he just never left. He was struggling to get gigs in Detroit and moved with less than $150 to his name.
“I was really living check to check,” Melinoe said. “If I never came here, I feel like musically I would have never taken myself as seriously.”
That’s not to say it wasn’t a rocky road to make it in the music industry—Melinoe openly became homeless for a few weeks in 2019 after some gigs got canceled and he couldn’t make rent. While sleeping in parking garages and performing gigs where he could, Melinoe said it was the friends he had made in the last three years that pulled him out of that place.
Specifically, it was local artist Adrian Armstrong that gave Melinoe a temporary roof over his head. It was Human Influence cofounder Christopher Omenihu who introduced Melinoe to many of his good friends, including Armstrong. It was Black Pumas keyboardist JaRon Marshall that helped push Melinoe’s talents outside the box. It was nonprofit Black Fret that helped Melinoe retain his footing and land gigs during the pandemic.
“Sometimes you have to embrace the struggle because ultimately, there’s more beauty and pain and survival in the struggle than you actually getting everything that you feel like you deserve,” Melinoe said. “Austin is a beautiful place. Sometimes, it feels like a fairy tale. I’ve never seen so many people be so supportive or so accepting of art.”
Melinoe is able to work on his music full-time while watching his one-year-old son gain some of his family’s musical talent every day. Be on the lookout for an upcoming art show alongside Armstrong in the spring, a short film release with Marshall in February and a new album in the works for 2022. In the meantime, Melinoe’s newest album, “Puu,” was released in November and “Mike Melinoe Day” is on Nov. 14.
A post shared by David Ramirez (@davidramirez)
Singer-songwriter David Ramirez was drawn to music through friendship and the connections he made in Austin that kept him in the business.
When Ramirez was attending a new school as a high school senior, choir and theatre kids gave him a place at their lunch table and took him in. Sharing their love of music with Ramirez led to him to ask his dad for an acoustic guitar, which he used to learn the newest Radiohead songs with his friend Eddie.
Austin wasn’t his first choice when he decided to go pro—Ramirez headed from Houston to Nashville in 2007, “to be very famous and successful.” Ramirez left just 10 months after arriving, bewildered by the corporate, competitive and business side of the music industry with which he had come face-to-face.
“It wasn’t the city’s fault, it was just my motivation,” Ramirez said. “After I left Nashville in 2008, I made a decision that I wouldn’t live in a city just for what it could do for my career.”
From there, Ramirez hit the road for six months and learned the art of the tour, living in his car and playing shows all around the continental U.S. Austin was one of his stops, where he rekindled some pockets of friends and family, and decided to stay on a whim.
A week or so after moving in, Ramirez was invited to a joyful backyard party full of music that reminded him of his high school jam sessions.
“The people I met initially were musicians—their motivations were just to bring people together and I thought that was the most beautiful thing,” Ramirez said. “It was just about the love of singing songs, of being together.”
While the business aspect of music still remained, Ramirez said the community that surrounds it is inclusive, uplifting and inspiring. Ramirez said he credits his friends’ influence for the diversity of sound on his album, “My Love is a Hurricane.”
“My love for Austin is the people that I hang out with on a regular basis…That’s why I call this place home,” Ramirez said. “That in itself is inspiration enough to come home and put pen to pad because it’s not about what that song is going to get you, it’s about ‘oh wow I just got done hanging out with some homies and they loved it. That made me love it even more’.”
Ramirez is announcing a new EP in February, along with some exciting local collaborations, and has an upcoming show at The Far Out Lounge on March 5.
A post shared by CHIΣҒ CLΣΩPΔTRΔ (@chiefcleopatra)
Jalesa Jessie, who goes by the stage name Chief Cleopatra, grew up singing in her Corsicana church choir, playing piano and drums when she was very young. She had a brush with fame when her former band was noticed by Pharrell Williams in 2009 but the group crumbled before anything came of it.
Jessie first “got a really big feel” for Austin when she visited for her 21st birthday and moved into the city shortly after. Austin left her feeling like a small fish in a big pond as she grappled to make a name for herself, so she went back home a year later to regroup.
“All the music and the vibrancy of just the city itself—I just fell in love,” Jessie said. “I was 21 and I got spun into the real reality of trying to make it in the city.”
Her Austin hiatus gave Jessie time to focus on herself: she worked on her own music, got accepted into Texas State University in San Marcos and then took a break from music while she worked in H-E-B’s bakery.
Moving to Austin and pursuing music were put on the back burner while Jessie found her rhythm as bakery manager. The music came back to her when she got a call asking to record some of the demos she had out there in 2017. Soon after, Jessie and guitarist Leonard Martinez would release their first EP, “Lesa x Lenny Vol.1,” under her new moniker Chief Cleopatra.
“I realized, ‘you know what, I still want to do this. So let me just go for it,’” Jessie said. “I’ve always wanted to make my way back here, it’s just a magical city, so I’m glad I did.”
Jessie credits the help of producer Walker Lukens for getting her in the door and sticking his neck out for her. Since she came back to music, Jessie has played shows all over the city, including opening for The Bright Light Social Hour, and continues to release music regularly.
Though getting her foot in the door was hard at first, Jessie said she’s starting to feel the love of Austinites.
“Once you’re in there, it’s a big family, like people are looking out for you,” Jessie said. “I’ve just naturally seen the genuineness and the good hearts of people in this industry here in Austin, maybe it is just a one-of-a-kind place.”
In the new year, Jessie said she is preparing to release a new EP in March, with an LP later this year. As for her goals, Jessie said she’d love to land a show with Houston-based band Khruangbin or an ACL set in the next few years.
Iron Ox produce will soon be available in Central Texas grocery stores. (Iron Ox/Twitter)
Robotic farming firm and Silicon Valley startup Iron Ox is expanding its Texas presence by creating a 1 million square foot facility in Lockhart. The company anticipates a $120 million capital investment for the new facility.
In a statement, Lockhart Mayor Lew White applauded the company’s growth in the Caldwell County city south of Austin. Already, the company’s local presence includes a facility that broke ground in April of last year, and is a few miles east of the new facility.
“Iron Ox has already made a great impact in the City of Lockhart at their state-of-the-art facility on Reed Drive,” White said. “Our city council was pleased to offer these latest incentives so the company can move forward with its new million-square-foot facility on Commerce Street, which will create more job growth and enhance our community’s business development.”
The incentives, which include a five-year property tax rebate and a grant for utility construction, were finalized during a Nov. 16 City Council vote. Members had committed $200,000 toward the construction of water and wastewater facilities. The incentives deal comes with requirements, including that Iron Ox closes on the land, constructs and pays for utilities and completes construction in order to receive the rebate.
Iron Ox, which currently sells in Northern California, touts a sustainable method for growing produce through robotics and plant science, claiming to use less water and energy and emit less CO2. With the use of robots, Iron Ox says it is able to optimize plant yield, reduce growth cycle time and create better quality crops. Early this year, Iron Ox produce like herbs, fruits and leafy greens will be available in Central Texas grocery stores.
CEO Brandon Alexander says he is thankful for the latest expansion, as he grew up picking cotton, potatoes and peanuts on his family’s farm in Texas.
“To meet the increased demand for nutritious and sustainable produce grown locally, we are committed to scaling our business to serve consumer needs,” Alexander said. “We are excited to explore the possibility of a second facility in the City of Lockhart as part of our long-term strategy and are beyond grateful to the Mayor and the City Council for helping make this a reality.”
The city’s announcement noted that the project will bring jobs, revenues and other benefits to the city. Current open positions in Lockhart include a technician for food safety, a quality assurance supervisor and an automations control commissioning engineer.
Del Valle ISD is one of several Austin-area schools that will continue mask mandates this spring. (Del Valle ISD/Facebook)
Austin ISD alone saw 30% of its 1,200 tested students and staff test positive for COVID on Monday, prompting the district and schools across Central Texas to consider tightening restrictions amid the omicron COVID surge.
Omicron, the highly transmissible COVID variant responsible for the latest nationwide surge, has contributed to the highest COVID rate since the start of the pandemic with one in three COVID tests positive in Central Texas. Sitting at the Stage 5 threshold in Austin Public Health’s risk-based guidelines, there has been a major increase in COVID hospitalizations, including in pediatric hospitalizations with 42 kids hospitalized locally as of Monday—a 281% increase from the week before.
Children still pose a far lower risk of severe complications than adults leading some Central Texas schools and universities to keep the spring semester near-normal. However, others have added new masking rules or switched back to temporary online learning.
Schooling during a pandemic has remained a hot-button issue with some reluctant to see another year with restrictions. Still others, including Round Rock ISD parent Brenda Barraza, think their districts aren’t doing enough to protect kids, faculty and families.
“I just feel that the schools should give the parents the option to stay virtual,” Barraza said. “With the new variant hitting children the hardest it’s just scary. And what about those with pre-existing health issues, or having them bring it home? My mom, for example, is vaccinated but is disabled and COVID would really hurt her.”
Here’s a roundup of which schools around Austin have made changes for the spring semester:
1,200 students and staff @AustinISD underwent Covid tests today…
ONE THIRD tested positive.
School starts in 2 days.
H/T @MarietteHummel https://t.co/qp38wQ2Xrb
Just as the district did last semester, Austin ISD announced that masks would be required on all district campuses in the spring semester. But with one-third of 1,200 tested students and faculty testing positive on Monday, the district sent out an email Monday with a few more recommendations—including encouraging students to wear an N95 mask or double mask if possible.
The district has also announced 11 testing sites, including a mobile van, that began operation on Jan. 3. In response to the CDC’s new guidance, the district said that students can come back to school after five days of isolation as long as they are asymptomatic. If a student tests positive, the child’s classmates will be notified and will have the option of staying in school and testing on the fifth day or staying home and testing five days later.
In addition to masking and isolation protocols, AISD said extra ventilation, sanitation and social distancing protocols are in place to help keep kids safe. AISD’s spring semester begins Wednesday.
But some parents believe the new recommendations aren’t enough—a group of over 50 parents have emailed the district asking for a delayed start, outdoor lunches and other new measures.
Oh, really? "Safe and healthy" but the district isn't even implementing safe and healthy policies:
🚫reporting close contacts
Using a character that resembles coronavirus is incredibly accurate though. pic.twitter.com/TTGpbPKZKr
Just two weeks after announcing that RRISD would make masking optional starting Jan. 19, the holiday surge forced school officials to reconsider the move.
A Dec. 30 email said that the district would reverse its announcement and continue to require masks indoors on school property as the district’s semester begins Wednesday.
While many parents and administrators are focused on a scandal surrounding a Texas Education Agency investigation of district superintendent Dr. Hafedh Azaiez, some parents, including Barraza, are worried that mask requirements aren’t enough to protect students.
While the district does not require masking, Hays County district Hays CISD has begun installing air purifiers throughout its campuses.
In September, the district’s board of trustees allocated $4.4 million to buy 1,800 air purification units after the summer Delta variant surge.
The district prioritized Tobias Elementary and Dahlstrom Middle School, which will both have purifiers installed by the first day of the semester on Wednesday. Tobias Elementary closed in September after more than 10% of its campus tested positive for COVID, while Dahlstrom also nearly closed amid a surge.
While Leander ISD does not have masking requirements in place, the district announced Friday that it would strongly recommend double masking when inside school buildings and getting students above age five vaccinated and boosted when possible.
Contrary to the CDC’s new guidelines, Leander said it would continue to require 10 days of isolation for COVID-positive students but said they had contacted the Texas Education Agency for clarity and anticipate shifting to five-day isolation in coming weeks.
A few days after other area universities announced they would start the spring semester with a brief period of online-only instruction, the University of Texas said it would do the same.
The school announced that it would ask faculty to teach remotely from the semester’s start date Jan. 18-28, with instructors allowed to teach in person during that time frame if they also provide online learning.
UT also asked students to test for COVID within three days of returning to campus.
Texas state is online for the first two weeks don’t call don’t text 😔
On Monday, San Marcos’ Texas State University became the first Austin-area university to switch to temporary online learning. In an email sent out to students, President Denise Trauth said the school would have online-only instruction from the start of the semester on Jan. 18 through Jan. 31.
Most students were disappointed to have yet another portion of their education conducted online, but students like senior theater undergrad Sarah Morton told Austonia they understand why their school made the switch,
“Being a student of the arts and being in classes that feed off of peer interaction, it’s incredibly challenging to be entering my last year of college reverting back to remote learning for the first two weeks, especially after having a great experience being in person last semester,” Morton said. “However, because people in our community aren’t taking steps toward safety like masking up and getting vaccinated, I understand completely why it’s necessary for the safety of everyone. While I am not the happiest to be back online, I’m glad we’re all just being safe.”
All campuses and offices will remain open for in-person or online services, including the school’s transportation, Alkek Library and LBJ Student Center, and resident move-in will stay on time.
But students who live on-campus will need proof of a negative test before move-in, and all university-sponsored events will be moved online or postponed until after the online period.
#fRAMily, please see statement below regarding the start of 2022 Spring Semester classes at Huston-Tillotson University.#HTisIDEAL pic.twitter.com/g0lg7WP9qx
Following Texas State’s announcement, Austin private HBCU Huston-Tillotson University announced Monday that it will begin the semester with two weeks of online instruction. University President and CEO Colette Pierce Burnett told students and faculty that all classes will begin online on Monday, Jan. 10 and will stay remote until Monday, Jan. 24.
Residence halls will continue to have move-ins as scheduled, and Burnette encouraged students to wear masks on-campus, report positive COVID test results and symptoms to the school’s app, and use on-campus testing and vaccination sites available throughout the semester.
Mask mandates remain in place for Del Valle and Manor ISD, while Eanes ISD continues to strongly encourage masking without mask requirements.
Colleges including Austin Community College and St. Edward’s University have not changed their policies ahead of the spring semester, with the University of Texas telling Statesman reporter Megan Menchaca that they “do not have any updates to share at this time.” UT’s positivity rate for students, staff and faculty reached nearly 10% Monday, its highest ever reported.