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New-to-Houston construction tech company files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

After relocating its headquarters to Houston, Katerra has filed for bankruptcy. Photo via Getty Images

Construction startup Katerra, which only recently moved its North American headquarters from Silicon Valley to Houston, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy June 6 — five days after news reports indicated the company was shutting down most of its U.S. operations.

Katerra's filings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Houston show the company and various affiliates have between $1 billion and $10 billion in liabilities and only $500 million to $1 billion in assets. In a June 6 news release, Katerra says it lined up $35 million in financing from a unit of Japan's SoftBank Group, the startup's largest investor.

Katerra recently notified its key stakeholders that many of its U.S. projects will be "demobilizing," according to the news release.

In an email sent June 1 to employees, Katerra said it would be winding down the majority of its U.S. operations and would lay off most of its U.S. employees. News website The Information first reported about the email. Globally, Katerra employs about 7,500 people.

Aside from letting go thousands of employees, Katerra is likely to walk away from dozens of construction projects it had agreed to build, The Information reported. As part of the bankruptcy case, Katerra plans to sell its renovation and Lord Aeck Sargent architecture businesses to unidentified buyers.

Katerra has been hemorrhaging money for months. In December, SoftBank pumped $200 million into Katerra, in addition to its previous investment of roughly $2 billion. Five months after Katerra received that cash infusion, Paal Kibsgaard stepped down as CEO, a role he'd held since July 2020. Kibsgaard is former chairman and CEO of Houston-based Schlumberger.

"The rapid deterioration of the company's financial position is the result of the macroeconomic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the construction industry, inability to procure bonding for construction projects following the unexpected insolvency proceedings of Katerra's former lender, and unsuccessful attempts to secure additional capital and business," according to the news release announcing the bankruptcy proceedings.

Greensill Capital, the lender referenced in the news release, filed for insolvency protection in March. Like Katerra, Greensill is backed by SoftBank.

Katerra was founded in 2015 with the intent to capitalize on technology — such as automation and robotics — in order to streamline construction. Its projects have included hotels and apartment buildings. Last year, it posted nearly $2 billion in revenue.

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Building Houston

 
 

This Houston-based SPAC has announced the tech company it plans to merge with. Photo courtesy of Gow Media

A Houston SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, has announced the company it plans to merge with in the new year.

Beaumont-based Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc., a provider of thermal imaging platforms, and Houston-based SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: SMAP), a publicly-traded SPAC with $117 million held in trust, announced their agreement for ICI to IPO via SPAC.

Originally announced in the fall of last year, the blank-check company is led by David Gow, CEO and chairman. Gow is also chairman and CEO of Gow Media, which owns digital media outlets SportsMap, CultureMap, and InnovationMap, as well as the SportsMap Radio Network, ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

The deal will close in the first half of 2023, according to a news release, and the combined company will be renamed Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc. and will be listed on NASDAQ under a new ticker symbol.

“ICI is extremely excited to partner with David Gow and SportsMap as we continue to deliver our innovative software and hardware solutions," says Gary Strahan, founder and CEO of ICI, in the release. "We believe our software and sensor technology can change the way companies across industries perform predictive maintenance to ensure reliability, environmental integrity, and safety through AI and machine learning.”

Strahan will continue to serve as CEO of the combined company, and Gow will become chairman of the board. The transaction values the combined company at a pre-money equity valuation of $100 million, according to the release, and existing ICI shareholders will roll 100 percent of their equity into the combined company as part of the transaction.

“We believe ICI is poised for strong growth," Gow says in the release. "The company has a strong value proposition, detecting the overheating of equipment in industrial settings. ICI also has assembled a strong management team to execute on the opportunity. We are delighted to combine our SPAC with ICI.”

Founded in 1995, ICI provides infrared and imaging technology — as well as service, training, and equipment repairs — to various businesses and individuals across industries.

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