money moves

Austin VC has its eyes on Houston with new $210M fund

Krishna Srinivasan and Venu Shamapant have been investing in Texas startups for 20 years. Now, with the latest LiveOak Venture Partners fund, the duo has more money to focus on Houston. Photos via liveoakvp.com

A venture capital firm that's focused on funding startups across the Lone Star State has closed its latest fund and is set on doubling down on Houston.

LiveOak Venture Partners has been around for almost a decade, and its third fund closed last week at $210 million. It's the firm's largest fund yet — twice its last two funds, which each closed at $105 million. Krishna Srinivasan tells InnovationMap that the original plan was to raise a similarly sized fund but interested limited partners brought even more to the table.

"There was tremendous interest from LPs for this fund," Srinivasan says, adding that the firm could have raised even more based on interest. "People love the white-hot, broad Texas market. ... It's been an exciting journey to take the firm to the next stage."

Srinivasan and Venu Shamapant, founding partners at LiveOak Venture Partners, raised the fund in just over three months — completely on video conferences. The duo has been investing in Texas technology companies for over 20 years and has seen a lot of momentum and excitement for their strategy. While the fund is bigger and brought in new LPs — some based in the Houston area — Shamapant says to expect a continuation of the fund's strategy.

"We don't really see a strong reason to change anything," Shamapant tells InnovationMap. LiveOak targets early stage tech companies in Texas. "On the edges though, the larger fund allows us to tweak (our strategy) a little bit and adapt to the market environment. We've been doing this for 20 years and this is one of the strongest markets we've seen in Texas."

Shamapant says they now have the ability to back more companies with slightly larger checks and longer term support. He also says they might make an investment or two in growth-stage companies, expanding a bit from just funding early-stage startups.

While most of the startups LiveOak has supported reside in Austin where the firm is based, the new fund is particularly geared at investing in startups across Texas.

"We are fiercely committed to adding a lot more portfolio companies in Houston," says Srinivasan. "Houston's got all the raw DNA that would constitute a great fit for the kind of deals we love to do."

LiveOak is no stranger to Houston. The firm was supported by the HX Venture Fund, a fund of funds that invests as a limited partner to VC firms based outside of Houston but with an interest in investing in local startups.

Additionally, one of the firm's early investments was in Houston-founded CS DISCO, a legal software startup that has seen great growth and success over the years. The company later relocated to Austin, which became a bit of a trend for Houston companies that needed to relocate to find success. Srinivasan says he's not seeing this trend so much anymore thanks to a more developed workforce in Houston.

"We believe there is a real depth of talent in the Houston market," Srinivasan says. "We are not at all interested in migrating companies out of Houston. I think there is enough tech strength and success locally."

Shamapant adds that the effect of the pandemic had and a rise in a distributed workforce will only benefit Houston ability to attract and retain tech talent and startups.

"A lot of the trends we talk about in terms of talent, aren't triggered by the pandemic. These are long-term trends we have seen over 20 years," Shamapant says, adding that this means the momentum is here to stay. "The pandemic probably brought it to a tipping point that has accelerated these trends."

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Building Houston

 
 

SurgWise is giving surgical teams the right support for hiring. Photo via Getty Images

A surgeon spends over a decade in school and residency perfecting their medical skills, but that education doesn't usually include human resources training. Yet, when it comes to placing candidates into surgical programs, the hiring responsibilities fell on the shoulders of surgeons.

Aimee Gardner, who has her PhD in organized psychology, saw this inefficiency first hand.

"I worked in a large surgery department in Dallas right out of graduate school and quickly learned how folks are selected into residency and fellowship programs and all the time that goes into it — time spent by physicians reviewing piles and piles of like paper applications and spending lots and lots and of hours interviewing like hundreds of candidates," Gardner tells InnovationMap. "I was just really shocked by the inefficiencies from just a business and workforce perspective."

And things have only gotten worse. There are more applicants hitting the scene every year and they are applying to more hospitals and programs. Future surgeons used to apply for 20 or so programs — now it’s more like 65 on average. According to her research, Gardner says reviewing these applications cost lots of time and money, specifically $100,000 to fill five spots annually just up to the interviewing phase of the process.

Five years ago, Gardner came up with a solution to this “application fever,” as she describes, and all the inefficiencies, and founded SurgWise Consulting, where she serves as president and CEO.

"We help provide assessments to help screen competencies and attributes that people care about," Gardner says. "(Those) are really hard to assess, but really differentiate people who really thrive in training in their careers and people who don't."

Aimee Gardner is the CEO and president of Houston-based SurgWise. Photo via surgwise.com

These are the non-technical skills, like the professionalism, interpersonal skills, and communication. While SurgWise began as a service-oriented consulting company, the company is now ready to tap technology to expand upon its solution. The work started out of Houston Methodist, and SurgWise is still working with surgery teams there. She says they've accumulated tons of data that can be leveraged and streamlined.

"We're now pivoting from a very intimate client approach to a more scalable offering. Every year we assess essentially around 80 percent of all the people applying to be future surgeons — those in pediatric surgery, vascular surgery, and more,” Gardner says. “We’ve used kind of the last five years of data and experiences to create a more scalable, easy-to-integrate, and off-the-shelf solution.”

Gardner says her solution is critical for providing more equity in the hiring process.

“One of our goals was to create more equitable opportunities and platforms to assess folks because many of the traditional tools and processes that most people use in this space have lots of opportunity for bias and a high potential for disadvantaging individuals from underrepresented groups," she says. "For example, letters of recommendation are often a very insider status. If you went to some Ivy League or your parents were in health care and they know someone, you have that step up from a networking and socioeconomic status standpoint."

Personal statements and test scores are also inequitable, because they tend to be better submissions if people have money for coaching.

SurgWise hopes to lower the number of programs future surgeons apply to too to further streamline the process. She hopes to do this through an app and web tool that can matchmake people to the right program.

“Our ultimate goal is to create a platform for applicants to obtain a lot more information about the various places to which they apply to empower them to make more informed decisions, so that they don't have to apply to a hundred places," Gardner says. "We want to essentially create a match-style app that allows them to input some data and tell us 'here's what I'm looking for here are my career goals and any preferences I have.'”

While that tool is down the road, Gardner says SurgWise is full speed ahead toward launching the data-driven hiring platform. The bootstrapped company hopes to raise early venture funding this summer in order to hire and grow its team.

“As we continue to consider this app that I talked about and some of the other opportunities to scale to other specialties we're gonna start looking for a series A funding later this summer.”

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