Hear me Roar

Houston-based B2B tech company is connecting the dots on IT services

Houston-based Liongard's Roar technology is helping its customers get all their IT services under one umbrella. Getty Images

Houston-based startup Liongard, an Information Technology automation and management company, was founded on the idea that managing data and technology for companies shouldn't be so difficult.

Before founding Liongard, CEO Joe Alapat and COO Vincent Tran owned and operated Empact IT, an IT company, for more 10 years. In the decade they owned the company, Alapat said they saw the industry completely change as protecting a business' information and data became more challenging.

"[IT is] not all on one place in a data center anymore: it's in the Cloud, it's on the network, it's in app services and in on-premise [offices]," Alapat says. "The security problem is huge and that's exploding because … we lack visibility into basic things when we're managing IT. We just want to be able to manage it and get back to sanity."

After the duo sold the IT company in 2012, Alapat and Tran used the funds from the sale to launch Liongard in 2015 with the focus of automating the management of the plethora of systems that can overwhelm Managed Service Providers, or IT Service Providers.

"Everyone thinks their IT department is high-tech," Alapat says. "Unfortunately, the department that's supposed to be so high-tech is actually pretty manual. And they won't let on that it's challenging, but it really is [and] there's a lot of manual work involved."

So, Alapat and Tran developed Roar: a software product that creates a single dashboard for all data systems including the Cloud and apps, server networks, and on-site systems to make accessing and protecting the data easier. Alapat said Roar is able to inspect multiple systems and bring back rich information without logging into each different system.

Liongard joined entrepreneurial accelerator Station Houston — an association that helps place young businesses in front of investors — in June 2016 and gained access to its network of mentors, advisers, and investors.

In spring 2018, Liongard completed its Seed Stage round of its capital campaign with $1.3 million in investments. With these initial funds, Liongard was able to put Roar on the market in April 2018 and expand its client base — growing from two clients to now close to 200 customers in less than a year.

This year, the company will launch the second leg of its capital campaign with the goal of raising between $3 million to $4 million to help expand the company further.

Alapat said he thinks the company has been received well by Houston investors because Liongard offers a product that other IT management companies don't.

"No one has a unified way to look across the Cloud and network and apps and services and servers," Alapat

says. "There's plenty of different dashboards and solutions that looks at one or two of those things, but there's no single solution that consolidates all of that. That's what makes us different — that we unify all of that under one umbrella."

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Building Houston

 
 

Kelly Avant, investment associate at Houston-based Mercury Fund, shares how and why she made her way into the venture capital arena. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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