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Austin startup eyes Houston for expansion following $5.75M seed round

Ownwell, which uses machine learning and local property tax expertise to help property owners fight hikes in tax assessments, is growing in Houston. Photo via Getty Images

A $5.75 million round of seed funding raised by an Austin-based proptech startup will help the company grow its presence in Houston.

Ownwell’s technology analyzes millions of properties to identify property owners who are overpaying, and the company then offers to protest tax assessments on the owners’ behalf for a 25 percent cut of any savings they realize. The company estimates that nearly nine out of 10 protests are successful, and customers save an average of $1,457.

Ownwell currently employs five people in Houston and expects that number to reach 10 by the end of this year. Overall, 14 of the company’s 29 employees live in the Houston, Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, and Waco areas.

First Round Capital led the $5.75 million round. Additional investors include Wonder Ventures, Founder Collective, Long Journey Ventures, and former PayPal board member Scott Banister. So far, Ownwell has raised $7.5 million in funding.

With the fresh round of funding, Ownwell plans to accelerate hiring in areas such as sales, marketing, technology, and operations.

Ownwell couples machine learning with local property tax expertise to help property owners fight hikes in tax assessments.

“Property owners have a lot to consider when deciding to protest: the costs in time and money, the complexity of the process, and the access to real estate expertise and advice,” Colton Pace, Ownwell’s CEO, says in a news release. “As part of our mission to reduce the inequities of property ownership, Ownwell handles the entire process of appealing on behalf of property owners and charges the lowest fees currently on the market.”

Joseph Noor, Ownwell’s chief technology officer, says each property tax appeal the company files isn’t considered complete “until it has been verified, analyzed, augmented, and finalized by a member of our property tax specialist team.” Ownwell doesn’t earn money unless an appeal succeeds.

“At Ownwell, we strive to provide our clients the benefits of modern technology with the thoughtful touch that can only be imparted by an expert in the field,” Noor tells InnovationMap.

Colton Pace is the CEO of Austin-based Ownwell. Image courtesy of Ownwell

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Building Houston

 
 

A new report shows Houston has attracted federal support as the life science industry expands locally. Photo via Getty Images

Federal funding, not venture capital, continues to be the main driver of growth in Houston’s life sciences sector, a new report suggests.

The new Houston Life Science Insight report from commercial real estate services company JLL shows Houston accounted for more than half (52.7 percent) of total funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) across major Texas markets through the third quarter of this year. NIH funding in the Houston area totaled $769.6 million for the first nine months of 2022, exceeding the five-year average by 19.3 percent.

VC funding for Houston’s life sciences sector pales in comparison.

For the first nine months of this year, companies in life sciences raised $147.3 million in VC, according to the report. Based on that figure, Houston is on pace in 2022 to meet or surpass recent life sciences VC totals for most other years except 2021. JLL describes 2021 as an “outlier” when it comes to annual VC hauls for the region’s life sciences companies.

JLL notes that “limited venture capital interest in private industry has remained a challenge for the city’s life sciences sector. Furthermore, it may persist as venture capital strategies are reevaluated and investment strategies shift toward near-term profits.”

While life sciences VC funding has a lot of ground to cover to catch up with NIH funding, there are other bright spots for the sector.

One of those bright spots is the region’s rising amount of life sciences space.

The Houston area boasts more than 2.4 million square feet of space for life sciences operations, with another 1.1 million under construction and an additional 1.5 million square feet on the drawing board, the report says. This includes a soon-to-open lab spanning 25,000 square feet in the first phase of Levit Green.

A second bright spot is the migration of life sciences companies to the region. Two Southern California-based life sciences companies, Cellipoint Bioservices and Obagi Cosmeceuticals, plan to move their headquarters and relocate more than half of their employees to The Woodlands by the first half of 2023, according to the report.

“Houston’s low tax rate and cost of living were primary drivers for the decisions, supported by a strong labor pool that creates advantages for companies’ expansion and relocation considerations,” JLL says.

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