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Houston energy tech startup raises $11M to grow its team locally

Houston-based Datagration Solutions Inc. has raised millions in its latest round — led partially by a local VC firm — to grow its local presence. Photo via Datagration Solutions/Facebook

An $11 million round of funding will fuel national and international growth at Houston-based Datagration Solutions Inc., whose cloud-based software aggregates data to improve workflows and analytics at upstream oil and gas operators.

Houston-based venture capital firm Quantum Energy Partners LLC and New York City-based venture capital firm Global Reserve Group LLC led the round. Datagration represents the sixth investment in energy tech involving the duo of Quantum Energy Partners and Global Reserve Group.

Braxton Huggins, chief marketing officer at Datagration, says the new capital will enable the company to build a technology team in Houston; add to its operations, sales, and marketing team in Houston; and supplement its development team in Austria. These new hires will help Datagration expand its national and international market presence, he says.

Huggins says Datagration aims to more than double in size by the end of 2021. The startup currently employs more than 30 people.

Datagration, formerly known as Oilsphere Inc., is a relative newcomer in the oil and gas industry. In May, Datagration acquired Austria-based Myr:Conn Solutions GmbH, which had operated the PetroVisor platform since 2010.

The PetroVisor platform lets customers pull data from legacy systems to streamline processes, keep operating costs and capital expenses in line, and improve workforce efficiency, Huggins says. All of those outcomes are "precisely what is required, given today's low and volatile commodity price environment," he says.

"PetroVisor has already delivered game-changing financial results for many E&P companies and is ready to scale globally," Peter Bernard, executive chairman of Datagration, says in a release. "The platform increases returns [from] legacy brownfield and greenfield reservoirs, and gives engineers more time to make engineering decisions that will improve profitability."

Nine days after Datagration announced the $11 million in funding, the company formally unveiled its executive management team. Aside from Bernard and Huggins, team members are:

  • J. Ike Epley, vice chairman.
  • Jorge Machnizh, president and CEO.
  • Michael Stundner, executive vice president of technology.
  • Dale Sperrazza, chief commercial officer.
  • Kenton Gray, chief technology officer.
  • David Freer, chief financial officer.
  • Carol Piovesan, senior vice president.
  • Tom Jordan, vice president of corporate development.
  • Lars Olrik, vice president of sales.

"Datagration strongly believes that the next industry opportunity is to provide a platform ecosystem that enables open integration and agnostic access to the most valuable company asset, the customer's data," Machnizh says in a letter posted on the company's website.

Market research and advisory firm Mordor Intelligence LLC says price volatility and stepped-up competition in the oil and gas industry are driving the use of big data to make "smart decisions." As a result, the firm says, big data in oil and gas is expected to see "exponential growth" from 2020 to 2025. A paper published in 2018 in the journal Petroleum identified big data analytics as an "emerging trend" for exploration, drilling, reservoir engineering, and production engineering in the upstream sector.

Darryl Willis, global vice president for energy at Microsoft Corp., said at a conference last year in Norway that the industry should brace for a "tsunami" of big data. "Data is the new common denominator that every industry, including the oil and gas business, is grappling with," Willis said.

Ravindra Puranik, oil and gas analyst at data analytics and consulting company GlobalData PLC, says concerns over the decline of profits and the rise of renewable energy are propelling incremental growth of big data in oil and gas.

"The oil and gas industry has always generated huge volumes of data daily across the value chain. However, despite being awash with money, it has been poor at data management," Puranik says. "It is only when profits drop that the industry starts to investigate how to use data to improve operational efficiency. However, this laissez-faire approach is less prevalent now."

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Auburn University's SwiftSku took first place in this year's virtually held Rice Business Plan Competition, but it was the second place company that went home with over half a million in cash and investment prizes. Photo via rice.edu

In its 21st year, the Rice Business Plan Competition hosted 54 student-founded startups from all over the world — its largest batch of companies to date — and doled out over $1.4 million in cash and investment prizes at the week-long virtual competition.

RBPC, which is put on by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, took place Tuesday, April 6, to Friday, April 9 this year. Just like 2020, RBPC was virtually held. The competition announced the 54 participating startups last month, and coordinated the annual elevator pitches, a semi-finals round, wildcard round and live final pitches. The contestants also received virtual networking and mentoring.

Earlier this week, Rice Alliance announced the seven student-led startups that then competed in the finals. From this pack, the judges awarded the top prizes. Here's how the finalists placed and what won:

  • SwiftSku from Auburn University, point of sales technology for convenience stores that allows for real time analytics, won first place and claimed the $350,000 grand prize from Goose Capital. The company also won the $50,000 Business Angel Minority Association Prize, the $500 Best Digital Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $401,000. The company also won the CFO Consulting Prize, a $25,000 in-kind award.
  • AgZen from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a pesticide alternative spray and formulation technology company, won the second place $100,000 investment prize (awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The startup also won a $300,000 Owl Investment Prize, the $100,000 Houston Angel Network Prize, the $500 Best Energy Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $1,500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $502,000. The company also won the $30,000 in-kind Polsinelli Energy Prize.
  • FibreCoat GmbH from RWTH Aachen University, a startup with patented spinning technology for the production of inexpensive high-performance composite fibers, won the third place $50,000 investment prize (also awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The company also won the $100,000 TiE Houston Angels Prize and the $500 Best Hard Tech Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $150,500.
  • Candelytics from Harvard University, a startup building the digital infrastructure for 3-D data, won the fourth place $5,000 prize.
  • OYA FEMTECH Apparel from UCLA, an athletic wear company that designs feminine health-focused clothing, won the fifth place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $5,000 Eagle Investors Prize, the $25,000 Urban Capital Network Prize, and the $1,000 Second Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $36,000.
  • LFAnt Medical from McGill University , an innovative and tech-backed STI testing company, won the sixth place $5,000 prize and the $20,000 Johnson and Johnson Innovation Prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $25,000.
  • SimpL from the University of Pittsburgh, an AI-backed fitness software company, won the seventh place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $25,000 Spirit of Entrepreneurship Prize from the Pearland Economic Development Corp., bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $30,000.

Some of the competition's participating startups outside of the seven finalists won monetary and in-kind prizes. Here's a list of those.

  • Mercury Fund's Elevator Pitch Prizes also included:
    • Best Life Science $500 Prize to Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Best Consumer $500 Prize to EasyFlo from the University of New Mexico
    • Best Overall $1,000 prize to Anthro Energy from Stanford University
  • The Palo Alto Software Outstanding LivePlan Pitch $3,000 Prize went to LiRA Inc. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • The OFW Law FDA Regulatory Strategy Prize, a $20,000 in-kind award went to Paldara Inc. from Oklahoma State University.
  • The Silver Fox Mentoring Prize, which included $20,000 in kind prizes to three winners selected Ai-Ris from Texas A&M University, BruxAway from the University of Texas, and Karkinex from Rice University as recipients.
  • The first, second, and third place winners also each received the legal service prize from Baker Botts for a total of $20,000 in-kind award.
  • The Courageous Women Entrepreneurship Prize from nCourage — a $50,000 investment prize — went to Shelly Xu Design from Harvard University.
  • The SWPDC Pediatric Device Prize — usually a $50,000 investment divided its prize to two winners to receive $25,000 each
    • Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Neurava from Purdue University
  • TMC Innovation Healthcare Prize awarded a $100,000 investment prize and admission into its accelerator to ArchGuard from Duke University
  • The Artemis Fund awarded its $100,000 investment prize to Kit Switch from Stanford University
The awards program concluded with a plan to host the 22nd annual awards in 2022 in person.

If you missed the virtual programming, each event was hosted live on YouTube and the videos are now available on the Rice Alliance's page.

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