Serious series

Houston B-to-B tech startup gears up for growth following $7 million Series A

Following a $7 million raise, Houston-based GoCo is looking to grow. Courtesy of GoCo

A Houston startup looking to digitize the human resources industry just completed a reassuring round of funding. GoCo closed its Series A funding round led by ATX Seed Ventures alongside UpCurve, Inc. at $7 million.

GoCo, which was founded by CEO Nir Leibovich, Chief Technology Officer Jason Wang, and Chief Product Officer Michael Gugel, is out to bring the much-maligned HR tasks into the digital world. The funding round brings GoCo's total funding to $12.5 million. Leibovich said the new capital will be allocated to hiring across all departments, further platform development to extend the breadth of offerings and to broadly expand the company's customer base.

"Today, we have 6,200 customers across the U.S. and around the world," Leibovich tells InnovationMap. "And we have 25 employees. We're looking to double and triple — if not quadruple — that across 2019."

The company has a solid partnership network with employee benefit insurance agencies like OneDigital and PayneWest, and general agencies like Word & Brown, to offer GoCo's technology as an enhancement to their existing insurance benefits services clients. GoCo also auto-syncs with leading payroll providers ADP, PayChex, Paylocity, Intuit Quickbooks and more, thus uniquely enabling businesses to maintain their benefits broker and payroll provider by integrating with GoCo's platform.

"This Series A and the potential addition of UpCurve's distribution channel to reach hundreds-of-thousands of new customers continues our mission to free SMBs and HR professionals from outdated and tedious administrative burdens. When these professionals look at current HR and benefits solutions on the market and think 'there must be a better way,' we are the better way," says Leibovich. "We want to be synonymous with modern and streamlined HR."

GoCo is backed by additional investments from Salesforce Ventures, Corp Strategics, GIS Strategic Ventures, the venture arm of Guardian Life Insurance, and Digital Insurance, the largest employee benefits-only company in the US. ATX Seed Ventures is investing for the second time.

"We are doubling down on our investment in GoCo, as it is positioned to become the platform of choice for HR professionals to break out of the chains of outdated and complex HR duties, and empowers them to spend more time on their employees and higher value tasks," says Chris Shonk, managing partner at ATX Seed Ventures, in a release. "GoCo is simply the best platform solution to do all this, and their increasing customer base supports it."

Founded in 2015, GoCo is the fusion of modern, paperless HR functions like employee onboarding, secure cloud-storage document management, eSignature workflows, time-off tracking and HR data reporting. As well, it is paired with simplified benefits enrollment and management, payroll sync and HR compliance enablement. The web and mobile based app empower employers to give employees 24/7 access to the full spectrum of a company's HR and benefits offerings.

GoCo creates platforms to onboard employees, conduct training and myriad HR tasks which, said Leibovich, free up HR personnel to handle the business of actually working with employees to grow their potential and assist companies with their missions.

"Typically, HR has lagged behind when it comes to embracing technology," says Leibovich. "Sales, marketing, development, these are places where it's become the norm to seek out tech solutions to problems. With human resources, many firms are still using that paperwork model, and often, a new hire's first day on the job – and therefore their first impression of a company — is filling out forms."

Leibovich had founded two companies before, one based in analytics that they sold to Zinga, the other a biotech firm. It was the biotech venture that brought the Austin-based trio to Houston. Looking around the landscape, Leibovich said he and his partners liked the fact that Houston was a city on the move, with a highly skilled workforce and companies keen on finding tech solutions to their challenges. The city's "if you can dream it, you can do it here" vibe kept the group here as they launched GoCo. Leibovich said he thinks that, in terms of its startup ventures, Houston is where Austin was 10 years ago. And he believes that continued successes in the tech and startup culture will breed more success in the Bayou City.

"This is an ecosystem that is coming together to attract even more talent for ventures like this," he said. "Funding is going to ramp up, and we see Houston as a place where we — and other companies — can create something really special. This is a great place to do business."

All-in-one platform

Courtesy of GoCo

GoCo is the fusion of modern, paperless HR functions like employee onboarding, secure cloud-storage document management, eSignature workflows, time-off tracking and HR data reporting.

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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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