For giving restaurants the tools to digitize their businesses.
The pandemic delivered Krystle Mobayeni, CEO of the restaurant tech startup BentoBox, a very unexpected opportunity and she pounced. The company creates websites for restaurants and sets them up with online ordering. When quarantine orders forced restaurants to pivot overnight to delivery and takeout, BentoBox got a surge of new clients.
To address the many needs of its expanding client roster, BentoBox decided to offer its products unbundled. Restaurants could pick how much support they needed with online ordering and offer options like digital gift cards. BentoBox sped up the development time to go live, with many restaurants launching in less than a week. During the crunch, the company evolved from a service provider of website design to a full technology partner, working with restaurants to centralize their digital storefront—website, e-commerce, and marketing.
To enable the shift, Mobayeni empowered BentoBox’s teams with the autonomy to meet the needs of its restaurant customers. And she made it clear that perfection wasn’t the goal. “We knew that we could always go back and refine our work, but with the uncertainty of the situation, time was of the essence,” says Mobayeni.
Nearly 80 percent of BentoBox employees have some restaurant industry experience, from pastry chefs to line cooks to waiters. “We never lose sight of our commitment to restaurants,” Mobayeni says. “Our focus on culture, speed, and restaurant-first operations has allowed us to maintain a 98 percent customer retention rate and create a strong reputation in the marketplace.”--Amrita Khalid
Xtreme Solutions, ShoulderUp, and Athena Technology Acquisition Corp
For opening more doors for more women.
After 22 years in the U.S. Army--much of it in cybersecurity and counter-terrorism, which was called “information security” then--Phyllis Newhouse set out to apply her Pentagon chops to the private sector. In 2002 she founded Xtreme Solutions, an IT and cybersecurity company that started in telecom before branching into industries as diverse as banking and retail--and working with military and government clients as well. While growing Xtreme to thousands of employees across 46 states, she’s also founded a womens’ empowerment organization, ShoulderUp, mentored dozens of women, and helped dozens more get involved in startup investing. For her next act, she’s aiming to get more women of color into boardrooms and onto Wall Street.--Christine Lagorio
For giving women's health tests a much-needed makeover.
After running into her boyfriend’s mom while buying a pregnancy test, Cynthia Plotch thought the women’s health industry could use a fresh approach. Her friend Jamie Norwood, who had recently fainted from a UTI, agreed. The two conducted some market research, found a need, and co-founded Stix, a direct-to-consumer women’s health brand, in September 2019: Their first product was a discreet, easy-to-use pregnancy test. But when the duo set out to raise money, more than 100 investors turned them down. “Most of venture capital is run by men, and this is a problem that mostly women face,” says Norwood. “So not only are we pitching the business and explaining why it makes sense as a business, but we're also explaining the problem.” Another complication arose in April 2020, when Plotch fell ill with mysterious symptoms and was eventually diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. “When you get sick, I think you realize how much you need to prioritize,” Plotch says. For Stix, that meant clarifying its mission to become a one-stop shop for women’s health education, not just products. The founders raised a $3.5 million seed round in April 2021, bringing Stix’s total funding to $5 million. The Philadelphia company is now a nine-person operation offering products to test for, treat, and prevent UTIs and yeast infections, in addition to pregnancy and ovulation tests and prenatal vitamins. Next up: launching new product lines and expanding its online library of health resources and digital tools.--Sophie Downes
For cooking up better kids' meals--and creative ways to stay in business.
When the country shut down last April, Bean Sprouts, a healthy kids' cafe with 14 locations across the U.S., found itself without any customers, let alone a game plan. The cafés reside in family destinations like the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, and co-chief executive and co-founder Kelly Parthen wondered how the 14-year-old Orange, California, chain would survive. “Many restaurants added third-party delivery, sold meal kits, and so on,” says Parthen. “We couldn’t do any of those.” What she could do was give Bean Sprouts’ 10-week online cooking class, Imaginibbles, free to host partners who shared it with local schools. And think up ways to bring its signature Imaginibbles menu items, like Spagiggles, to children’s hospitals. With health front and center of everyone’s mind, the pandemic also compelled executives of family destinations to evaluate their food offerings. “Many executives realized [the food] didn’t match their goals of being healthy,” says Parthen. “In the past year, we've signed more contracts for future openings than we ever have.” Bean Sprouts will have 21 locations by the end of this year—a good thing for parents desperate to feed their kids something healthier (and tastier) than cold cuts.--Jill Krasny
For spotting--and filling--a lucrative gap in the pet market.
When Parisa Fowles-Pazdro adopted a French bulldog, she found she had to choose between spending a few dollars on cheap pet accessories or thousands on designer ones. But what about something in between? With that question in mind, she founded Maxbone in 2017 to sell affordable luxury items including dog clothing, toys, freeze-dried food, carriers, and more. Boosted by an increase in dog adoptions during the pandemic, in the past year, the Los Angeles-based company grew sales 300 percent year-over-year and attracted more than 8,000 new customers.
Collaborating with well-known brands, including Disney and Away, Fowles-Pazdro looks back at the year with pride knowing she's serving shoppers who have been ignored in the past. "There are a lot of people who are grateful that we are making good quality food for their dogs,” she says. “And we’re educating customers about why they should have a certain approach to their dogs—and why they're like family members.”--Anna Meyer