guest column

Houston expert shares 3 venture capital predictions for 2022

Blockchain growth and funds reaching new groups of people — this Houston investor has VC trends for 2022. Image via Getty Images

New Year’s resolutions are all well and good, but this year, in true VC fashion, I’m making some New Year’s predictions, too. Though I’m not an oracle, I am an investor, which means I use what I learned in the past to guide my decisions in the present. With that in mind, here are three predictions for 2022.

Blockchain’s gaining ground and will be used to solve some of the world’s toughest problems.

This year, expect to see more corporates adopting blockchain. Blockchain is the digital recordkeeping technology that cryptocurrencies depend on, but its impact goes far beyond powering Bitcoin and giving speculative traders something to do. It allows corporations to do everything from transferring data more securely, to tackling supply chain issues (a problem we became all too familiar with last year), to eradicating the double spending problem in carbon credit markets and helping businesses prove their ESG claims.

When it comes to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing, blockchain will be a major part of the solution to a myriad of pressing issues, from climate change to social unrest.

On the environmental front, expect blockchain to be an essential tool in our quest to get to net zero: the technology allows companies to better track and trace their carbon footprint, and will lead to greater accountability across industries. It also has the potential to bring much-needed transparency to the global food supply chain, so that consumers can make informed decisions about the products they’re buying.

So much of the social unrest we are experiencing today is the result of power concentrated in too few hands and the lack of access to financial services. Blockchain is already being used to help the unbanked to improve their credit scores through microloans and to provide farmers with crop insurance. In 2022, blockchain will continue to democratize access to capital and unlock opportunities for retail investors to build wealth on their own terms.

As of last fall, 85 percent of the market cap of digital assets was driven by retail investor interest. In the first half of 2021 we saw a 100 percent increase in crypto users and a 700 percent growth in the DeFi token market cap. And there’s no signs of a slowdown. In December, Visa announced they were launching a “crypto advisory practice” to help their clients understand this next frontier. Visa’s announcement is just one of many announcements from major firms embracing the notion that digital assets will soon be a vital thread in the broader financial ecosystem.

If you let 2021 pass without getting educated on blockchain, 2022 is the time to dive deep.

The tech industry knows entrepreneurs can build from anywhere, and they’re doubling down on geographic diversity.

Until a few years ago, the conventional wisdom was that you couldn’t build a successful startup from anywhere but Silicon Valley. In 2022, entrepreneurs will build — and build successfully — in cities across the country, basing themselves in communities that best align with not only their industries, but their interests.

Rising innovation hubs will succeed based on how well they distinguish themselves from their counterparts. Want to build in a vibrant metropolitan area which is also the most diverse city in America and has built an inclusive startup ecosystem? Join us in Houston. Want to join a thriving ecosystem that is close to nature activities and still (somewhat) affordable? Move to Austin.

Though this geographic diversification started pre-pandemic, COVID-19 sped it up. In 2021, for the first time in more than 10 years, the percentage of seed capital going to Bay Area startups fell under 30 percent. The possibility of building an innovation community anywhere is finally becoming a reality as the pandemic years forced digital adoption and innovative thinking.

The upshot: if you’re a founder looking to lay roots, you can find the soil that’s best for your growth.

For women, Black and Latinx founders, the needle is moving in 2022.

For years now, a few in the tech industry have been working hard to diversify capital allocation, planting seeds aimed at getting more capital into the hands of women, Black and Latinx founders. In 2022, those seeds will sprout.

Two years ago, only 5.6 percent of VC firms in the U.S. were women-led, and of those 73 percent had been founded in the previous five years. But venture is a long game so investing initiatives can take years. When women are writing the checks, they tend to fund more diverse teams, which, in turn, routinely outperform teams with no women or people of color.

The work, in short, is paying off. In 2021, venture firms founded by women were on pace to bring in over 7 billion dollars, nearly one billion dollars over the previous high, from 2019. Expect the trend to continue into this year.

In summary, expect 2022 to be a blockbuster year for blockchain utility, and enjoy the increased capital deployed into previously underrepresented founders living all across America. We’ll check back in 2023 to see how I did.

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Samantha Lewis is principal at Houston-based venture capital firm, Mercury Fund.

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Building Houston

 
 

InformAI has three AI-based products geared at improving health care. Photo via Getty Images

In Houston, we’re lucky to have top-tier doctors in the Texas Medical Center, ready to treat us with the newest technology. But what about our family members who have to rely on rural hospitals? Thanks to one Houston company, doctors in smaller community hospitals may soon have new tools at their disposal that could improve outcomes for patients around the world.

Since InnovationMap last caught up with Jim Havelka, CEO of InformAI, two years ago, that hope has come far closer to a reality. InformAI is a VC-backed digital health company. Part of JLABS @ TMC innovation facilities, the company uses artificial intelligence to develop both diagnostic tools and clinical outcome predictors. And two of the company’s products will undergo FDA regulatory testing this year.

SinusAI, which helps to detect sinus-related diseases in CT scans, received its CE Mark — the European equivalent of FDA approval — last year and is being sold across the Atlantic today, says Havelka. He adds that in the United States alone, there are roughly 700,000 sinus surgeries that the product is positioned to support.

Another product, RadOnc-AI, is designed to help doctors prescribe radiation dose plans for head and neck cancers.

“Ideally the perfect plan would be to provide radiation to the tumor and nothing around it,” says Havelka. “We’ve built a product, RadOnc-AI, which autogenerates the dose treatment plan based on medical images of that patient.”

It can be an hours-long process for doctors to figure out the path and dose of radiation themselves, but the new product “can build that initial pass in about five minutes,” Havelka says.

That in itself is an exciting development, but because this technology was developed using the expertise of some of the world’s top oncologists, “the first pass plan is in line with what [patients would] get at tier-one institutions,” explains Havelka. This creates “tremendous equity” among patients who can afford to travel to major facilities and those that can’t.

To that end, RadOnc-AI was recently awarded a $1.55 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, a state agency that funds cancer research. The Radiological Society of North America announced late last year that InformAI was named an Aunt Minnie Best of Radiology Finalist.

“It’s quite prestigious for our company,” says Havelka. Other recent laurels include InformAI being named one of the 10 most promising companies by the Texas Life Science Forum in November.

And InformAI is only gaining steam. A third product is earlier in its stage of development. TransplantAI will optimize donor organ and patient recipient matches.

“A lot of organs are harvested and discarded,” Havelka says.

His AI product has been trained on a million donor transplants to help determine who is the best recipient for an organ. It even takes urgency into account, based on a patient’s expected mortality within 90 days. The product is currently a fully functional prototype and will soon move through its initial regulatory clearances.

The company — currently backed by three VC funds, including DEFTA Partners, Delight Ventures, and Joyance Partners — is planning to do another seed round in Q2 of 2023.

“We’ve been able to get recognized for digital health products that can be taken to market globally,” says Havelka.

But what he says he’s most excited about is the social impact of his products. With more money raised, InformAI will be able to speed up development of additional products, including expanding the cancers that the company will be targeting. And with that, more and more patients will one day be treated with the highest level of care.

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