HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 109

Houston sportstech startup scales, plans expansion into health care

Aaron Knape joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share how he's taking the sEATz platform into a new vertical. Photo courtesy of sEATz

When sEATz launched, the startup was looking to provide a way for sports fans to order their beer and hotdog to their seat without having to miss a moment of a game. Over the years, the Houston company has expanded its technology to be a reliable platform for mobile order management in stadiums and arenas — and now Aaron Knape, co-founder and CEO, knows the technology can do so much more.

"We started this company with a focus on mobile ordering for sports and entertainment venues," Knape says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We've always known we wanted to get into other industry verticals, and one that stuck out, primarily because it's such a big deal in Houston, is the health care industry."

Knape says he and his co-founder, Marshall Law, let this idea be known to their vendor partners, and eventually sEATz got the right connection to a health care campus to try out a new product: MyEatz.

"What we're building now is a mobile ordering platform for these large health care campuses," Knape says, explaining that the campuses have thousands of employees with limited space and time for dining. "We're starting on our first pilots in the health care industry where we provide that mobile ordering platform and back-end support with our partner Aramark."

Among the first groups to pilot the new product is Houston Methodist, Knape says. The pilots should launch this quarter — either this month or next.

"This could be a much bigger market than sports and entertainment," Knape says. "Sports will continue to be our core market, but this will be a little less seasonal."

And, in light of the last 18 months, less averse to the effects of a shutdown of sports and entertainment. However, the sEATz team entered the COVID-19 pandemic with uncertainty — like most of the world — but the team was able to market sEATz mobile ordering platform as something crucial to bringing back fans in stadiums.

"Our goal was to go out and market ourselves and push the branding of 'we facilitate social distancing, mitigate crowds, and get rid of lines,'" Knape says on the show. "That really resonated with a lot of our clientbase."

Remarkably, sEATz even raised fresh funding amid the pandemic. In November of 2020, the startup closed an oversubscribed $1.6 million seed round led by Valedor Partners. Knape says he's currently focused on the company's to support scaling and growing the team by six or so new employees over the next few months.

"I tell the team that we're kind of coming out of stealth mode — I know we're not in a true stealth mode, but we haven't spent a lot of money on sales and marketing," Knape says. "Now it's time to start putting that emphasis on who we are, that we're here, and we're ready to take over."

Knape shares more on how sEATz is growing and the potential for Houston to build a sportstech niche within the innovation ecosystem on the podcast. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Building Houston

 
 

Dream Harvest picked up funding to open a 100,000-square-foot indoor farming facility in Houston. Photo courtesy of Dream Harvest

Houston-based Dream Harvest Farming Co., which specializes in sustainably growing produce, has landed a $50 million investment from Orion Energy Partners to open a 100,000-square-foot indoor farming facility in Houston. The facility will enable the company to dramatically ramp up its operations.

The new facility, which will be built in Southwest Houston, is scheduled for completion in January 2023. Dream Harvest’s existing 7,500-square-foot facility in Southwest Houston supplies 45 Whole Foods stores in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas, as well as Sweetgreen restaurants in Texas.

The company currently employs 25 people. With the addition of the 100,000-square-foot facility, Dream Harvest’s headcount will rise to 65.

Dream Harvest relies on wind-powered, year-round indoor vertical farming to generate 400 times the yield of an outdoor farm while using 95 percent less water and no pesticides.

“Because the vast majority of America’s produce is grown in California and has to be shipped over long distances, most of the country receives produce that is old, has a poor flavor profile, and a short shelf life — a major contributing factor to the more than 30 percent of fresh vegetables being discarded in the U.S. each year,” Dream Harvest says in a December 7 news release.

Zain Shauk, co-founder and CEO of Dream Harvest, says his company’s method for growing lettuce, baby greens, kale, mustards, herbs, collards, and cabbage helps cut down on food waste.

“Demand for our produce has far outpaced supply, an encouraging validation of our approach as well as positive news for our planet, which is facing the rising problem of food and resource waste,” Shauk says. “While we have the yields today to support our business, we are pleased to partner with Orion on this financing, which will enable us to greatly expand our production and increase access to our produce for many more consumers.”

Dream Harvest expects to expand distribution to more than 250 retail locations in 2022.

“Orion’s focus on sustainable infrastructure and deep experience in building large industrial facilities will be complementary to Dream Harvest’s impressive track record of being a reliable supplier to high-caliber customers by achieving consistent yields, food safety, and operational efficiencies … ,” says Nazar Massouh, co-managing partner and CEO of Orion Energy Partners, which has offices in Houston and New York City.

Other companies in the Orion Energy Partners portfolio include Houston-based Caliche Development Partners, Tomball-based Python Holdings, The Woodlands-based Evolution Well Services, Houston-based Produced Water Transfer, and Houston-based Tiger Rentals.

Zain Shauk is the co-founder and CEO of Dream Harvest. Photo courtesy of Dream Harvest

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