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Overheard: Houston venture capital experts weigh in on the city's investment future

Is the venture capital model broken? Are lower middle-of-the-country startup valuations a benefit or a hindrance? And what will the impact of the coronavirus be on startup investing? Getty Images

Last week's Houston Tech Rodeo celebrated Houston's development as an innovation ecosystem. One major component of the Bayou City's innovation growth is the amount of venture capital activity happening in Houston.

At a panel on Monday, InnovationMap hosted a discussion between three local investors about whether or not the VC model is broke, if Houston is too far behind the coasts, and even the effect of coronavirus on investment.

If you missed the event, here are some overheards from the panel.

“We weren’t sure whether [Houston] would be the best place or the easiest place to raise money in, but it’s been incredibly welcoming."

— Leslie Goldman, general partner at The Artemis Fund. The female-founded, female-focused fund launched last year and has made two investments so far — with three more to announce in the next few weeks.

“We have a lot of experience and expertise, and a lot of money and deep pockets. But how do we make sure we are taking advantage of everything going on in Houston outside of just investing in other funds?”

— Samantha Lewis, director of Goose, explains that Goose's model is a network of high net worth investors who share deal flow and diligence duties. The organization invests $10 million annually.

“We have a much more operator and business fundamental mindset. When we look at companies at Goose, we ask, ‘what’s the path to profitability?” — not just what the growth rate is.”

— Lewis says, adding that Houston has a different psychology of success than coastal innovation ecosystems, and that's apparent in her investors at Goose.

“As an entrepreneur in Houston you have to understand one thing, and that one thing is that companies in the middle of the country generally get a discount to companies on the coast."

— Blair Garrou, managing director at Mercury Fund says on the discrepencies between valuations of Houston companies versus coastal companies. Garrou explains that, "companies in the middle of the country grow at lower rates than their coastal counterparts not because of their company but because of the amount of capital that you put to work." Coastal VCs want to go all in on the startups with technology that's going to disrupt and take over an entire market.

“I think the question now is can Houston get caught up in the somewhat irrational exuberance so that you as entrepreneurs don’t have to get diluted as much in your investment. My thought is probably not, if I’m being honest.”

Garrou says of this big-money, all-in approach to venture capital you see on the coasts.

“When you talk about all-female-founded companies, the average valuation is $12 million, and all-male-founded companies, $25.5 million is the average. That’s a female discount.”

— Goldman says, acknowledging that while Houston companies are discounted compared to the coasts, companies with all female founders are also discounted despite making up 17 percent of exits last year.

“VCs have raised larger, and larger funds. With more funds, they have to deploy more money. A lot of them are competing with each other and that drives up valuations.”

— Goldman says, adding that she's heard the VC model being referred to as "broken" on the coasts, and it all comes down to valuations and growing VC funds with too much money.

“Whether or not coronavirus becomes the epidemic that everyone things it will be, what’s happening is it’s correcting the market.”

— Garrou says, comparing the pandemic to the 2008 recession. "I think we have an opportunity. If you look at every single downturn in the market, the greatest companies have come from those downturns," he adds.

“So many people are interested in Houston because they do believe Houston has great deals at more reasonable valuations. It should be really good for founders — it’s just a matter of not comparing yourself to what the coastal companies are getting.”

— Garrou says, adding that what's missing is a sophisticated angel investment foundation. While organizations like the Houston Angel Network and Goose exist, Houston is too big for just what exists now.

“I think one of the important things to do as we are growing the ecosystem is remember that we are not going to be a copy and paste model. We need to do it in our own way.”

— Lewis says about Houston's innovation ecosystem. "What we need to think about and embrace is different models of deploying capital," she says citing Goose as an example. "We need to get creative about that."

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Building Houston

 
 

Here's what Houston tech and startup news trended this year in InnovationMap's space tech category. Photo via NASA

Editor's note: As 2022 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. In the Space City, there were dozens of space tech stories, from experts' thoughts on commercialization to the IPO of a Houston company. Here are five Houston space tech-focused articles that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.

Overheard: Houston needs to strengthen infrastructure, workforce to maintain Space City status

Space experts discussed the city's role in the space industry at a recent event. Photo via NASA

In no time at all, humans will return to the moon and as they make the first spacewalks in fifty years — wearing suits designed in Houston — they will call down to earth, and only one city in the world will be named on the radio transmissions.

Houston is the Space City — but what will it take to maintain that moniker? This was a big topic of the Greater Houston Partnership's second annual State of Space event hosted on Tuesday, October 11.

A diverse and impressive panel discussed the Space City's future, the upcoming moon missions, commercializations, and more. Read more.

Houston-based space tech company to go public via SPAC merger

The deal between Intuitive Machines and a SPAC is expected to close in the first quarter of 2023 and would value the combined company at $815 million. Photo courtesy of Intuitive Machines

A Houston-based space exploration company that’s been tapped by NASA to take cargo to the moon plans to go public through a SPAC merger with a New York-based shell company.

Intuitive Machines LLC, founded in 2013, aims to merge with New York City-based Inflection Point Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). Once the merger is completed, shares of the combined company (Intuitive Machines) will trade on the Nasdaq stock market under the ticker symbol LUNR.

The deal, expected to close in the first quarter of 2023, would value the combined company at $815 million. Read more.

Space City News: Houston Spaceport receives grant, unicorn hires architecture firm

Catch up on two big pieces of news landing at the Houston Spaceport. Image via fly2houston.com

The Space City is starting 2022 off strong with news launching out of the Houston Spaceport — a 400-acre space in Southeast Houston.

The two big headlines include a unicorn company releasing the latest details of its earthbound project and fresh funds from the state to support the space ecosystem in Texas. Read more.Read more.

Overheard: Space experts discuss commercialization, innovation, and Houston's future

What's Houston's role in the modern era for aerospace? And how can the industry foster public-private collaboration? Experts weighed in at a recent event. Photo via NASA

The aerospace industry — much more than other sectors — is run by a mixture of civil, commercial, and military players. And each of these verticals operate very differently.

At a Houston Tech Rodeo event called "Lasso the Moon" put on by Space Force Association and TexSpace, aerospace experts representing various entities — from startups to big tech to education and military organizations — discussed the future of space innovation. Read more.

Iconic Houston-area landmark rockets to No. 1 in new list of best employers in Texas

Johnson Space Center astronauts and team enjoy the best workplace in Texas. Johnson Space Center/Facebook

NASA must be over the moon about a new ranking of the best employers in Texas.

A new list from Forbes and Statista puts NASA at No. 1 among the state’s major employers, both those based in Texas and those with a significant presence here.

NASA’s $1.5 billion Johnson Space Center complex occupies more than 1,600 acres in Clear Lake. The site, home to the space agency’s mission control and astronaut training operations, employs roughly 3,000 NASA workers, along with thousands of NASA contractors. NASA’s headquarters is in Washington, D.C.

It’s estimated that Johnson Space Center contributed more than $4.7 billion to the Texas economy in 2018. Read more.

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