Money moves

Houston sees significant jump in annual venture capital investments, according to new data

The city of Houston still lags behind Dallas and Austin when it comes to venture capital funds raised but did outshine compared to its 2018 numbers. Getty Images

While Houston fell behind Austin and Dallas when it came to amount of venture capital raised last year, the Bayou City still closed out 2018 with more funds raised than it reported in 2017, according to Crunchbase data.

Houston had a reported $372.8 million in investments in 77 known deals across 2018. In 2017, Houston had 95 deals reported but with a smaller total of funding dollars — $257.7 million — which gives Houston a 45 percent increase year over year.

Compared to other Texas metros, Houston still lags behind. Austin reported $1,285.5 million and Dallas companies had $601.8 million. These figures reflect only the reported deals to Crunchbase.

Photo via news.crunchbase.com

Even though 2018 overall shows Austin had a huge lead, in the third quarter of last year, Houston reported a similar amount of VC funds as Austin. In Q3, Houston startups pulled in $138.8 million — 39.2 percent of the state's entire VC funding — while Austin startups reported receiving $150.6 million — 42.6 percent of the funds, according to Crunchbase.

The fourth quarter was a slightly different story. Houston still edged out Dallas, but Austin took a significant lead. Houston had a reported $121.4 million from 11 reported VC deals, compared to Dallas' $101 million and Austin's $299.9 million. For Houston, the largest 2018 deal took place in Q4. Apex International, and oil and gas company, raised $75 million.

Austin-based Capital Factory's co-founder, Joshua Baer, tells Crunchbase that it will take some time for Houston's VC economy to catch up to Austin's, but that he doesn't think there's any reason it couldn't happen. Capital Factory, which has contributed to some Houston startups, recently announced it has preleased space in Houston-based The Cannon's new 120,000-square-foot space that's expected to deliver in spring.

Baer tells Crunchbase that Houston's biggest problem is access to venture capital — something that isn't rare of a problem at all. But Houston has a unique opportunity too.

"What Houston has that most places don't is a lot of corporate VCs," Baer says to Crunchbase. "Almost every energy company headquartered in Houston has a venture arm. They tend to fund companies that are Series B and later… so not the seed-stage stuff that is so popular in Austin and they do it all over the world, not just in Houston."

Five different Houston startups closed out 2018 with some funds. Here's how they plan to spend their investments.

Voyager, a Houston SaaS company, has received fresh funds to develop its bulk shipping software. Tom Fisk/Pexels

Houston software startup Voyager is making waves in its quest to improve efficiency — and stem billions of dollars in losses — in the maritime bulk-shipping business. Now, it's got some fresh capital to help it achieve that mission.

On August 21, Voyager revealed it secured $1.5 million in seed funding from four investors from around the world: Austin-based ATX Venture Partners, Houston- and California-based Blue Bear Capital, New York City-based GreenHawk Capital, and Oman-based Phaze Ventures. Previous investors include Boulder, Colorado-based Techstars and Spring-based Knightsgate Ventures.

With its software-as-a-service offering, Voyager aims to modernize the workflows of operators in the maritime bulk-commodities industry. The company says its technology will become more vital as autonomous shipping and internet- and Internet of Things-enabled cargo vessels grow in popularity.

Voyager's technology enables all communication tied to a shipment to be handled via its web dashboard and app, essentially creating a one-stop shop for people who need to track messages about maritime bulk shipments.

"Shipping bulk commodities like crude oil, gas, and petrochemicals is still a highly manual and complex process, with $360 billion in ocean freight managed globally by email, phone, fax, and text in a high-volume, fast-paced environment," Matthew Costello, co-founder and CEO of Voyager, says in a release. "Data is decentralized and unstructured, and the process is rife with inefficiencies, lost opportunities, costly human errors and, overarchingly, billions in losses."

One shipment alone generates more than 4,000 emails and hundreds of documents, with at least 10 companies collaborating across several time zones, according to Voyager.

Voyager says the $1.5 million in funding will go toward:

  • Expanding its line of SaaS products.
  • Attracting more customers. This includes a foray into the oil and gas sector.
  • Enlarging its engineering, development, marketing, and sales teams. Voyager currently employs seven people at the company's new office in downtown Houston. Plans call for a 10-member workforce by the end of 2019 and a 20-member workforce by the end of 2020.

Costello and Bret Smart, Voyager's chief operating officer, launched the company in 2018. Both are veterans of the maritime industry, where they conducted a study that found roughly 40 percent of workers' time was spent on simple, low-value tasks like manual data entry. With that research in hand, Costello and Smart — who worked together at Stolt-Nielsen, a London-based provider of liquids transportation and storage that has a Houston office — came up with the Voyager software.

Among Voyager's customers are brokerage, terminal, and agency businesses, as well as ship owners and commodity producers. The company says one of its customers has realized more than $4 million in annual bottom-line savings by switching to Voyager, with another customer pegging its annual savings at $1.5 million.

"As industries move away from email to digital-based communication, Voyager will become a critical system of engagement," Costello says.

Down the road — or, in this case, the shipping channel — Voyager plans to supplement its cloud-based offerings with capabilities like machine learning and analytics.

"Opportunities for innovation in maritime abound, as the need for technological advancements exist in one of the world's biggest industries. Voyager is poised to be the leader in maritime operations," says Chris Shonk, managing partner of ATX Venture Partners.