Startup Summer School: Houston’s Zodist, Luminostics, & RaptorBird

This edition of Startup Summer School brings us to RedLabs, the University of Houston’s student accelerator.

I dropped into RedLabs Tuesday to speak to a few of the student entrepreneurs about their innovations in robotics, rapid medical diagnostic testing, and e-cigarettes. These entrepreneurs will join those from 13 other startups at both Houston and Rice University for a first-ever joint pitch day next month.

These three startups, in particular, have either have a unique team, a unique market, or both, says Hesam Panahi, founder of RedLabs and an Xconomist.

“RaptorBird and Luminostics consist of only technical founders and … watching them overcome business challenges has been inspiring,” he says. “Zodist and RaptorBird are early entrants in new markets that could potentially become heavily regulated. I believe have the tenacity to make it through.”

Here’s a look at a trio of RedLabs startups:


What they do: Weekly subscription box of so-called e-juices for use in vaporizers to replace cigarettes. Founders Tri Nguyen, Tom Huynh, and Joshua Wathen started the company six months ago following Huynh’s use of vaping to help him stop smoking. The company already has nearly 200 customers who receive monthly boxes of juices based on a flavor profile that records a user’s favorites—say, banana split—and dislikes, such as coffee. Zodist buys the juices at wholesale prices from retailers nationwide. Founders say they don’t try to haggle the juice-makers too much for price reductions as Zodist’s customer base are those who are willing to pay a bit more for the personalized selection the startup can offer. Current sales hit about $10,000 a month, Nguyen says.

Zodist sells two subscription packages, for two or four bottles, at $23.99 or $39.99 a month. Users specify a nicotine level in the juices.

Lessons learned and challenges ahead: The company originally only shipped out boxes once a month, meaning that customers who placed orders, say, on the 10th of the month would have to wait until the first of the next month to receive their order. In order to keep people from dropping out or canceling orders, Zodist began shipping out orders once a week.

The entrepreneurs are working on software that will that will use algorithms to “curate” customers’ selections with data from both their profiles and feedback. Eventually, they hope to have a system where an employee—using their software—would work specifically on a group of customer orders in order to maintain a personal touch.

Another wrinkle could be regulatory. While the FDA does not currently regulate e-cigarettes like vaping, there is a chance that the agency could begin reviewing the juices, and end up … Next Page »

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