q&A

Fresh off $7.5M funding, this new-to-Houston tech company plans to grow and expand in life science space

Alex Reed, co-founder and CEO of Fluence Analytics, joined InnovationMap for a Q&A on the company's move to Houston and its growth plans. Photo courtesy of Fluence Analytics

Founded in 2012 in New Orleans, a tech company that provides software and hardware solutions for the chemicals industry has entered its next phase of growth by moving its headquarters to Houston following a $7.5 million venture capital raise

Fluence Analytics, which announced its recent raise led by Yokogawa Electric Corp. last month, has officially moved to the Houston area. The company's new HQ is in Stafford. Alex Reed, co-founder and CEO of the company, joined InnovationMap for a Q&A about what led up to the move and the future of the company, which includes expanding into the life science field.

InnovationMap: Tell me about Fluence Analytics — what does the technology do and why did you decide to start the company?

AlexReed: We have developed a patented technology that can optimize chemical production. We basically are able to measure what's happening in real time in a process. Imagine if you're baking a cake, and you follow this recipe and sometimes you get the cake you want, sometimes it's too dry, and sometimes it's not cooked enough. And so the polymers industry, for simplistic terms, has that type of an issue. You don't really know exactly where you're at your equipment behaves differently. Basically, what we're able to do is give them real-time information on what's happening as they're baking the cake so that every time they can get a perfect cake.

We have a software and hardware solution that we install in these plants to get these measurements so that our customers can optimize production — and they want to do that to improve their yield, reduce waste, increase safety, and improve quality. There are a lot of different reasons that companies are interested in our technology and we have managed to grow globally. We have customers in Asia, Europe, and the U.S.

We spun out of Tulane University. It's an interesting story because my dad is the inventor of the technology — he's a physics professor at Tulane. I grew up working in the lab with him literally since the age of 12, and I was super interested in technology and science and saw that he was working with all these chemical companies. They were always very interested in what he was working on. I got to the point where I realized that I didn't want to be a scientist — I was far more interested in the commercialization and how you go from lab to product. That transition is very difficult. So, I stepped into the role of the entrepreneur. We had the patents and technology for my dad, I had an excellent mentor, and then our other co-founder was a technical founder.

IM: When and why did you start considering an HQ move? 

AR: We raised our first institutional venture funding in April 2017. Up until that point, it was primarily working with customers and grant funding. We worked with actually a group that has an office here called Energy Innovation Capital. They came in and invested in us and supported us, and George Coyle joined our board.

So, we had that tie to Houston, and I was in Houston a lot because there was a concentration of partners and customers — and not just like chemical plant customers, but also technology and R&D centers. As we started to scale, we brought on some other investors — Mitsubishi Chemical, JSR Corp., and most recently Yokogawa Electric Corp., which has its North American headquarters in Sugar Land.

We started to just build momentum towards it. I'd say we first had the conversations pre-COVID and then COVID hit, and we'd kind of just stopped everything for a while, just to make sure we knew where the business was heading. We've made it through COVID fine and did well on coming out of it. Then we felt it was the right time to pick that thread back up. We knew it made sense. The labor pool is amazing here, and there's just so many reasons why we were looking at it. So then we just pulled the trigger.

IM: How did you decide on the Houston area? What drew you to Stafford?

AR: Initially, we had a little landing pad in the East End Maker Hub, so we got in there and they were awesome. We actually had started hiring remote people here in 2019 because we knew the move was going to happen at some point. We had a place for them to go work out of EEMH while we searched for a permanent facility. We connected with the Greater Houston Partnership, and they plugged us in to Houston Exponential, and they have been very good at introducing us to the right people. We just don't know the lay of the land to be honest, so they've been a great resource. We were looking originally on the northside of Houston, and then we saw the Stafford area. There's a huge concentration of similar type companies — automation, some software, some hardware. There were some tax advantages. We settled in the Stafford area and are very happy with the choice we made to end up here.

IM: I know you recently raised a $7.5M venture funding round. What does that funding mean for growth?

AR: Like any capital, the objective is to use it to grow. For us, "grow" has several different areas. One is the product. There's a very long roadmap of both hardware and software improvements that we want to make. So basically we're accelerating a lot of the things on our roadmap to do things like closed-loop control based on our data — imagine running a whole plant autonomously based on measurements that we're making. We're moving more and more toward that autonomous operation world and improving a lot of the actual underlying hardware, making the measurements, building out sales and marketing as we start to serve more and more customers. Product sales and marketing and customer success are the areas that we're scaling.

IM: As you grow your local team, what are you looking for?

AR: Field applications, software, some automation technicians, and more. We do have some life science applications. So, in addition to our core area on the chemical side, we have a product we've sold into biopharma, and so we want to grow some of that. We're actually hiring for a product manager for the life science side of the business. So, that one's a pretty unique opportunity and role.

IM: Considering your life science application, it seems like Houston is a good fit for that vertical as well, right?

AR: We're working with the Houston of today, but also the Houston of tomorrow, which is this life science play. The next phase is kind of following that innovation value chain. So, figuring out what's the R&D and manufacturing of these pharmaceuticals, and how you can attract more of those technology centers and factories to make the stuff here. If you look at the talent pool here, those resources are somewhat fungible with the resources that serve petrochemical and oil and gas.

This cross pollination I think actually could be quite an interesting differentiator for Houston if the city can build that critical mass. So yes, I think there is an opportunity for us to leverage this vision that Houston has for life science. Now, we'll still have to go to the coast to go to our customers, but I think talent pool, and eventually you might even have customers here. It's certainly feasible.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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Building Houston

 
 

Here's what Houston startups and innovators will be honored at the Houston Innovation Awards Gala on November 9. Graphic via Gow Media

The Houston Innovation Awards Gala is just a few weeks away — and now the city knows who all it will be celebrating on November 9.

Eight judges evaluated over 150 companies and individuals across 11 categories for the 2022 Houston Innovation Awards. The event is a collaboration between InnovationMap and Houston Exponential to showcase the best of technology and innovation in the Bayou City.

This year's judges includedCarolynRodz, founder and CEO of Hello Alice; Wogbe Ofori, founder of Wrx Companies; ScottGale, executive director of Halliburton Labs; AshleyDanna, senior manager of regional economic development of Greater Houston Partnership; KellyMcCormick, professor at the University of Houston; PaulCherukuri, vice president of innovation at Rice University; LawsonGow, CEO of Houston Exponential; and NatalieHarms, editor of InnovationMap.

All 43 of the finalists will be honored at the gala on November 9, and winners will be named in each category. Additionally, the event will honor the 2022 Trailblazer Award recipient, Blair Garrou of Mercury, who was announced earlier this month.

Without further adieu, here are this year's finalists:

BIPOC-Founded Business

The finalists for the BIPOC-Founded Business category, honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by BIPOC representation, are:

  • Blue People — nearshore software developer of custom technology solutions.
  • Clutch — digital marketer that connects emerging brands to next-gen creators.
  • Steradian Technologies — health tech startup that uses deep-photonics technology to diagnose respiratory diseases in seconds, all for the price of a latte.
  • Tradeblock — peer-to-peer barter exchange for collectibles.
  • Unytag — creator of universal toll tag platform that uses a mobile app and a custom-built RFID tag.

Female-Founded Business

The finalists for the Female-Founded Business category, honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by a woman, are:

  • Accel Unite, LLC — creator of science-backed self-cleaning fabric.
  • Ampersand — platform that upskills entry-level professionals, leveling the playing field with the skills and confidence they need to transition from school to the workforce.
  • CDR Companies — human resources tech platform that provides in-depth assessments, executive coaching, digital avatar coaching for all employees, leadership development and talent management services.
  • Prana Thoracic — medical device company that's providing early intervention in lung cancer.
  • Sesh Coworking — women and genderqueer inclusive coworking and community.

Hardtech Business

The finalists for the Hardtech Business category, honoring an innovative company developing and commercializing a physical technology across life science, energy, space, and beyond, are:

  • ARIX Technologies — robotics and data analytics software company that helps industrial facilities like petrochemical plants and electric utilities prevent costly shutdowns and environmental disasters due to pipe corrosion.
  • Fluence Analytics — real-time analytics solution that optimizes processes and provides novel insights into material properties that enable customers to increase yields, improve product quality, and reduce costs.
  • Milkify — creator of patent-pending process to freeze-dry breast milk into a powder that is easy to use and transport and lasts for three years on the shelf.
  • Prana Thoracic — medical device company that's providing early intervention in lung cancer.
  • Saranas — medical device company focusing on improving patient outcomes through early detection and monitoring of internal bleeding complications.

B2B Software Business

The finalists for the B2B Software Business category, honoring an innovative company developing and programming a digital solution to impact the business sector, are:

  • Ampersand — platform that upskills entry-level professionals, leveling the playing field with the skills and confidence they need to transition from school to the workforce.
  • Liongard — software company that unlocks the intelligence hidden deep within IT systems to give MSPs an operational advantage that delivers both higher profits and an exceptional customer experience.
  • Pandata Tech — tech company that helps companies and federal organizations figure out what sensors they can trust to make critical decisions in daily operations and unforeseen events.
  • Rivalry Technologies Inc. (sEATz) — platform developer for sports and entertainment venues and has been a proven partner at stadiums and venues across the USA, and expanded the proven mobile ordering technology and best practices to develop the myEATz platform, which supports daily operations at facilities in healthcare, business dining, and leisure industries.
  • Solidatus — data management software solution that empowers organizations to connect and visualize their data relationships, simplifying how they identify, access and understand them.

Green Impact Business

The finalists for the Green Impact Business category, honoring an innovative company providing a solution within renewables, climatetech, clean energy, alternative materials, and beyond, are:

  • Bucha Bio — biobased materials company that combats animal and plastic waste and promotes ethical and natural bacterial and plant-based ingredients in the process.
  • Cemvita Factory — biotech company that uses a sustainable, economical, nature-inspired approach to empower companies with sustainable products and environmental technologies to decrease their carbon footprint, reverse climate change, and create a brighter future for the planet.
  • Encina Development Group — circular chemicals company that provides the basic building blocks for customers to meet their renewable content goals by enabling cyclical production and reproduction of products across a broad spectrum of ubiquitous goods, including consumer products and packaging, pharmaceuticals, construction, and much more.
  • IncentiFind — database for green building incentives that's transforming real estate through $70 billion in incentives.
  • NanoTech — materials science company that's designed a product to fireproof and improve thermal efficiencies.

Smart City Business

The finalists for the Smart City Business category, honoring an innovative company providing a tech solution within transportation, infrastructure, data, and beyond, are:

  • Pandata Tech — tech company that helps companies and federal organizations figure out what sensors they can trust to make critical decisions in daily operations and unforeseen events.
  • Rescunomics — platform that provides innovative solutions global safety pain points.
  • Sensytec — IoT Solutions platform that expedites and enhances concrete construction operations.
  • Sparks Spaces — builder of hospitality-focused electric vehicle charging hubs
  • Unytag — creator of universal toll tag platform that uses a mobile app and a custom-built RFID tag.

New to Hou Business

The New to Hou Business category, honoring an innovative company, accelerator, or investor that has relocated its primary operations to Houston within the past three years, are:

  • Allthenticate — platform that replaces passwords and keys with an easy-to-use smartphone phone app.
  • Bucha Bio — biobased materials company that combats animal and plastic waste and promotes ethical and natural bacterial and plant-based ingredients in the process.
  • Fluence Analytics — real-time analytics solution that optimizes processes and provides novel insights into material properties that enable customers to increase yields, improve product quality, and reduce costs.
  • INGU — pipeline inspection solution to achieve Net Zero and ESG compliance for the water and oil and gas pipeline infrastructure.
  • Venus Aerospace — creator of a hypersonic spaceplane capable of one-hour global travel.

People's Choice: Startup of the Year

The finalists for the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category, selected via an interactive voting portal during of the event, are:

  • Cemvita Factory — biotech company that uses a sustainable, economical, nature-inspired approach to empower companies with sustainable products and environmental technologies to decrease their carbon footprint, reverse climate change, and create a brighter future for the planet.
  • LevelField Financial — financial service platform that serves customers interested in the digital asset class.
  • Milkify — creator of patent-pending process to freeze-dry breast milk into a powder that is easy to use and transport and lasts for three years on the shelf.
  • Rivalry Technologies Inc. (sEATz) — platform developer for sports and entertainment venues and has been a proven partner at stadiums and venues across the USA, and expanded the proven mobile ordering technology and best practices to develop the myEATz platform, which supports daily operations at facilities in healthcare, business dining, and leisure industries.
  • Tradeblock — peer-to-peer barter exchange for collectibles.

DEI Champion

The finalists for the DEI Champion category, honoring an individual who is leading impactful diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and progress within Houston and their organization, are:

  • Arianne Dowdell, vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Houston Methodist
  • Juliana Garaizar, head of Houston Incubator at Greentown Labs and lead investor at Portfolia
  • Kara Branch, founder and CEO of Black Girls Do Engineer Corporation
  • Loretta Williams Gurnell, founder of SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation
  • Rob Schapiro, director of the Energy Acceleration Program at Microsoft

Mentor of the Year

The finalists for the Mentor of the Year category, honoring an individual who dedicates their time and expertise to guide and support to budding entrepreneurs, are:

  • Alfredo Arvide, chief innovation officer at Blue People
  • Barbara Burger, board member, mentor, and advisor to several startups
  • Craig Ceccanti, founder and CEO of T-Minus Solutions
  • Emily Reiser, associate director of innovation at the Texas Medical Center
  • Kara Branch, founder and CEO of Black Girls Do Engineer Corp. and developer and manager at Intel Corp.

Investor of the Year 

The finalists for the Investor of the Year category, honoring an individual who is leading venture capital or angel investing, are:

  • Chris Howard, founder of the Softeq Venture Fund, Softeq Venture Studio, and Softeq Development Corp.
  • John (JR) Reale, managing director of Integr8d Capital and venture lead of the Texas Medical Center Venture Fund
  • Juliana Garaizar, head of Houston incubator and vice president of innovation at Greentown Labs and lead investor at Portfolia
  • Samantha Lewis, principal at Mercury
  • Sandy Guitar, managing director of the HX Venture Fund

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