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3 Houston innovators to know this week

This week's Houston innovators to know includes Chris Buckner of Mainline and Austin Hill and Brad Jenkins of Seed Round Capital. Photos courtesy

This week's Houston innovators to know have all grown or started a company during the COVID-19 pandemic — a bold choice. From an esports software entrepreneur to two serial founders looking to invest in the next generation of Houston tech startups.

Chris Buckner, co-founder and CEO of Mainline

With sports offline, esports startup Mainline has seen an opportunity for growth during the COVID-19 outbreak. Photo courtesy of Mainline

While Chris Buckner has found the isolation aspect of the pandemic challenging, he shares on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast that it's actually been an extremely exciting time for his esports tournament software startup, Mainline. This year, Mainline is poised to onboard over 100 schools to their system, and, while most of those schools were lined up before the pandemic, the process has been sped up.

"Everyone is looking for how to get sports, or esports, in front of people because everyone is just missing [sports] so much," Buckner says. "We've been very fortunate to work in the industry we do."

On campuses this past spring, basketball was cut short, baseball was canceled, and football's status is currently unknown. Colleges are looking for a way to connect with and engage students, Buckner says. And, Mainline has even been able to attract interest on the professional level. Read more and strea

Austin Hill and Brad Jenkins, co-founders of Seed Round Capital

Brad Jenkins and Austin Hill have announce the launch of a growth and invetment-focused incubator for startups called Seed Round Capital. Photos courtesy of Seed Round Capital

Brad Jenkins and Austin Hill wanted to create a firm that prioritized funding for growing tech startups in Houston, so they teamed up to launch Seed Round Capital, an investment and advisory firm based in Houston and for Houston-based startups. Rather than an accelerator model, the new firm will focus on long-term support for its portfolio companies.

"Our program helps startup founders fund and scale their businesses with management guidance from seasoned entrepreneurs. In addition, founders receive training on proven business methods specially formulated by Seed Round Capital, and access to funding," Hill says in a statement to InnovationMap.

Startups can apply online to be selected to receive mentoring from Jenkins, Hill, and a network of experts involved in — or previously involved in — Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO), a local group of business leaders. Once selected, Seed Round's startups will have access to office space at The Cannon. Read more.

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Building Houston

 
 

Just after announcing an investment from United, NEXT Renewable Fuels Inc. scored a SPAC-based IPO. Photo via nextrenewables.com

It’s been a momentous month for Houston-based NEXT Renewable Fuels Inc.

On November 15, United Airlines Ventures announced an investment of up to $37.5 million in the next-generation, low-carbon fuel producing company.

Just a week later, the company revealed it’s going public through a SPAC merger with Industrial Tech Acquisitions II Inc. The deal, expected to close in the second quarter of 2023, assigns a $666 million equity value to NEXT. The publicly traded company will be named NXTCLEAN Fuels Inc.

NEXT, founded in 2016, produces low-carbon fuels from organic feedstock. The company plans to open a biofuel refinery in Port Westward, Oregon, that’s set to start production in 2026. The refinery could produce up to 50,000 barrels per day of sustainable aviation fuel, renewable diesel, and other renewable fuels.

“West Coast states are demanding a clean fuels conversion of the transportation and aviation industries with aggressive targets necessitating rapid increases in clean fuel supplies,” Christopher Efird, executive chairman and CEO of NEXT, says in a news release. “[The company] is advancing toward becoming one of the largest U.S.-based suppliers of clean fuels for these markets, and is investigating and pursuing potential vertical expansion into other clean fuels.”

The proposed public listing of NEXT’s stock on the Nasdaq market and United’s investment are poised to help NEXT reach its goal of becoming a leader in the clean fuel sector. United’s investment appears to be the first equity funding for NEXT.

“Right now, one of the biggest barriers to increasing supply and lowering costs of sustainable fuel is that we don’t have the infrastructure in place to transport it efficiently, but NEXT’s strategic location and assets solve that problem and provide a blueprint for future facilities that need to be built,” Michael Leskinen, president of United Airline Ventures, says in a news release.

United’s investment arm, launched in 2021, targets ventures that will complement the airline’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

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