Money moves

Bumble Fund makes investment and partnership deals with AI-driven startup platform with Houston ties

Alice founders, Elizabeth Gore (left) and Carolyn Rodz, will talk more about the partnership at Bumble's SXSW event, which the duo attended last year. Getty Images

Rather than just imagining a world where investments made are representative of the diverse population, these two tech companies with Texas roots are teaming up to do something about it.

Austin-based Bumble, a social network with over 50 million users, has reached a deal with Alice, an artificial intelligence-powered platform for entrepreneurs founded by Houstonian Carolyn Rodz and Californian Elizabeth Gore, to use the platform for Bumble's next round of funding.

Additionally — but actually separate from the partnership — Bumble Fund, an early stage corporate investing vehicle focused on businesses founded and led by underrepresented women founders, has invested in Alice in its most recent round of funding.

"We are looking to invest in entrepreneurs whose company purpose solves a problem that disproportionately affects women," says Sarah Jones Simmer, COO at Bumble, in a release. "While we can't fund every promising business and entrepreneur, we strongly believe these companies and founders deserve access to grow, evolve, and thrive. Through community, access to experts, how-to guides, and more, Bumble and Alice are committed to helping women founders find the support and resources they need on their path to success."

The next cohort of fund recipients of the Bumble Fund will be applying through Alice's website, which provides education, support, mentorship and guidance to burgeoning startup founders. Even if applicants don't get funding from Bumble, they leave with a network of resources.

The partnership with Alice will allow Bumble to better connect the dots of its fund recipients using data and AI, and even help to eliminate any bias when it comes to selecting the recipients. The fund is open to all United States entrepreneurs who identify as women. It launched in summer of last year and cuts checks ranging from $5,000 to $250,000, with an average of $25,000.

"For the last several years, only 2 percent of venture capital went to women founders. At Alice and Bumble, we see that as a 98 percent opportunity," says Rodz in the release. "The Bumble Fund, powered by Alice, is that opportunity in action; together, we're going to rewrite the rules of venture capital to be more accessible, more transparent and more supportive for women founders."

Here are all four of Bumble Fund's second round of recipients, according to the release.

  • Alice - founded by Carolyn Rodz and Elizabeth Gore: an AI-powered technology helping entrepreneurs find the right path to start and grow their companies.
  • Gixo - founded by Selina Tobaccowala: a fitness company founded to improve global health and activity rates by democratizing access to live workouts with professional trainers.
  • Translator - founded by Natalie Egan: the world's most advanced diversity & inclusion training system for corporations, schools and nonprofits.
  • Promise - founded by Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins: a technology company that creates cost-effective, equitable, and humane alternatives to incarceration with a mission to get people out of jail and provide ongoing support to help them stay out.

Bumble's first round of investments were in Beautycon, Cleo Capital, Female Founders Fund, Mahmee, and Sofia Los Angeles, a winner of the inaugural Bumble Bizz Pitch Competition.

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Building Houston

 
 

Ty Audronis founded Tempest Droneworx to put drone data to work. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

Ty Audronis quite literally grew up in Paradise. But the Northern California town was destroyed by wildfire in 2018, including Audronis’ childhood home.

“That’s why it’s called the Campfire Region,” says the founder, who explains that the flames were started by a spark off a 97-year-old transmission line.

But Audronis, who has literally written the book on designing purpose-built drones — actually, more than one — wasn’t going to sit back and let it happen again. Currently, wildfire prevention is limited to the “medieval technology” of using towers miles apart to check for smoke signals.

“By the time you see smoke signals, you’ve already got a big problem,” Audronis says.

His idea? To replace that system with real-time, three-dimensional, multi-spectral mapping, which exactly where his company, Tempest Droneworx, comes in.

When asked how he connected with co-founder Dana Abramowitz, Audronis admits that it was Match.com — the pair not only share duties at Tempest, they are engaged to be married. It was a 2021 pre-SXSW brainstorming session at their home that inspired the pair to start Tempest.

When Audronis mentioned his vision of drone battalions, where each is doing a specialized task, Abramowitz, a serial entrepreneur and founder who prefers to leave the spotlight to her partner, told him that he shouldn’t give the idea away at a conference, they should start a company. After all, Audronis is a pioneer in the drone industry.

“Since 1997, I’ve been building multicopters,” he says.

Besides publishing industry-standard tomes, he took his expertise to the film business. But despite its name, Tempest is a software company and does not make drones.

That software is called Harbinger. Audronis explains that the real-time management and visualization solution is viewable on practically any device, including mobile or augmented reality. The system uses a video game engine for viewing, but as Audronis puts it, “the magic happens” on the back end.

Harbinger is not just drone-agnostic, but can use crowd-sourced data as well as static sensors. With the example of wildfires in mind, battalions can swarm an affected area to inform officials, stopping a fire before it gets out of hand. But fires are far from Harbinger’s only intended use.

The civilian version of Harbinger will be available for sale at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024. For military use, Navy vet Audronis says that the product just entered Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 5, which means that they are about 18 months away from a full demo. The latest news for Tempest is that earlier this month, it was awarded a “Direct to Phase II” SBIR (Government Small Business Innovation Research) contract with the United States Department of the Air Force.

Not bad for a company that was, until recently, fully bootstrapped. He credits his time with the Houston Founder Institute, from which he graduated last February, and for which he now mentors, with many of the connections he’s made, including SBIR Advisors, who helped handle the complex process of getting their SBIR contract.

And he and Abramowitz have no plans to end their collaborations now that they’re seeing growth.

“Our philosophy behind [our business] isn’t keeping our cards close to our vest,” says Audronis. “Any potential competitors, we want to become partners.”

The company was just the two founders until five weeks ago, when Tempest’s size doubled, including a full-time developer. Once Tempest receives its SIBR check, the team will grow again to include more developers. They are currently looking for offices in the city. As Audronis says, Tempest Droneworx is “100-percent made in Houston.” Paradise may have been lost, but with Harbinger soon to be available, such a disaster need never happen again.

Dana Abramowitz and Ty Audronis co-founded Tempest Droneworks. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

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