Cha-ching

Fast-growing Houston chemicals startup closes $32 million funding round

Solugen closed its Series B funding round and now has $32 million to grow its chemical products. Getty Images

A fast-growing chemicals manufacturer has something to celebrate — 32 million somethings. Solugen Inc., the only producer of bio-based peroxide solutions, announced that its $32 million Series B funding round has closed.

The round was led by San Francisco-based Founders Fund, and Y Combinator, Refactor Capital, Fifty Years, and KdT Ventures all also contributed to the round. Solugen only closed its Series A — a $13.5 million round — just over six months ago.

"Solugen is on track to become a major player in the chemical industry," says Brian Singerman, partner at Founders Fund, in a release. "The company's success to date proves that there is significant demand for cleaner, greener methods of chemical production. For customers, choosing between toxic, petrochemical-based chemicals and cheaper, safer, environmentally friendly bio-chemicals from Solugen is a no-brainer."

The company has created bio-based solutions that are revolutionizing the chemicals industry by making processes more efficient, safer, and cheaper. One product con convert plant sugars into hydrogen peroxide while others can treat, clean, and oxidize water used in industrial contexts. Its first product, Ode to Clean, was sold to Diamond Wipes last year.

According to the release, the company has 10 more products in the works awaiting patent filings and revenue has grown 10 times over in the past year thanks to multiple multi-million dollar contracts. Solugen is has also started construction on a 200,000-square-foot office space that expects to deliver in early 2020.

"This is a momentous landmark in our company's young history, and we want to thank our investors for their support as well as for their belief in our technology, team, and mission of decarbonizing the chemicals industry," says CEO Gaurab Chakrabarti, in a release.

The funds will allow the company to continue to grow its chemical products in order to keep up with client demand.

"Thanks to innovations like this our customers are seeing results that save them a tremendous amount of money, reduce their carbon footprint and minimize the dangers associated with using traditional, often dangerous petrochemical-derived products," Chakrabarti says in the release.

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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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