houston innovators podcast Episode 165

Houston investor shares what startup founders need to prioritize in 2023

The future of Web3, investing in Houston, and how founders need to be prepared for 2023 — Samantha Lewis of Mercury joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Heading into the new year, startup founders in Houston and beyond need to focus on conserving and raising cash, says Samantha Lewis, principal of Houston-based venture capital firm Mercury.

“We all know it’s turbulent market times. We’re unsure where the market is going, and when there’s uncertainty in the public markets, that puts uncertainty in the private markets,” Lewis says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. “What I’ve been spending the past two quarters doing is working with our portfolio companies to just make sure our balance sheets are bulked up for what’s to come in 2023.”

She says Mercury's startup portfolio has focused on extending each company's runway financially through 2024 — and she recommends all startups to try to do the same. She advises on the show that even if a company raised funding within the past year, open on the same terms and valuation just to bridge the gap.

“In 2023, if things start to look up, great. But if things continue to be volatile, then we need to be prepared for it,” she says. “What we’re advising all of our startups to do is to get as much cash in the door right now as you can.”

She outlined a lot of this analysis in a report for Mercury looking back at the market in 2022. Lewis, who was named a member of the Class 27 of the Kauffman Fellows Program, a group of global innovation investors, factors in what she's experienced through the program at an international level.

Lewis is focused on what she calls the "power theme" at Mercury, which includes fintech, blockchain, web3, and more. She says these industries have been hit in particular within market uncertainty.

"Ultimately the companies that are now getting investment and see capital flow through them within Web3 are the ones that have been building a sustainable business from the beginning," she says. "And thinking about what are the real use cases that blockchain unlocks and how it adds economic value."

When it comes to VC activity, Lewis says 2023 has been plagued with "FOMO investing" — the fear of missing out on a buzzy new technology — and "hype projects." Investors were throwing money into Web3 technology that hadn't yet been vetted in a real way.

Mercury didn't do that, Lewis says. "We've been very disciplined about where we put dollars within Web3. We've done mostly infrastructure Web3, and the only thing we'll continue to do is infrastructure." She cites Topl, a Houston-founded blockchain network company, as an example.

On the podcast, she shares more about the tumultuous ride blockchain has had in 2022, and why she's still bullish on Web3 despite the bad actors within cryptocurrency. She also shares some of the things Mercury has been up to with its Houston-based portfolio and what's next for them.

Listen to the episode below, or wherever you get your podcasts — just search "Houston Innovators Podcast."


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Building Houston

 
 

Ben Jawdat, CEO and founder of Revterra, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

With more and more electric vehicles on the road, existing electrical grid infrastructure needs to be able to keep up. Houston-based Revterra has the technology to help.

"One of the challenges with electric vehicle adoption is we're going to need a lot of charging stations to quickly charge electric cars," Ben Jawdat, CEO and founder of Revterra, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "People are familiar with filling their gas tank in a few minutes, so an experience similar to that is what people are looking for."

To charge an EV in ten minutes is about 350 kilowatts of power, and, as Jawdat explains, if several of these charges are happening at the same time, it puts a tremendous strain on the electric grid. Building the infrastructure needed to support this type of charging would be a huge project, but Jawdat says he thought of a more turnkey solution.

Revterra created a kinetic energy storage system that enables rapid EV charging. The technology pulls from the grid, but at a slower, more manageable pace. Revterra's battery acts as an intermediary to store that energy until the consumer is ready to charge.

"It's an energy accumulator and a high-power energy discharger," Jawdat says, explaining that compared to an electrical chemical battery, which could be used to store energy for EVs, kinetic energy can be used more frequently and for faster charging.

Jawdat, who is a trained physicist with a PhD from the University of Houston and worked as a researcher at Rice University, says some of his challenges were receiving early funding and identifying customers willing to deploy his technology.

Last year, Revterra raised $6 million in a series A funding round. Norway’s Equinor Ventures led the round, with participation from Houston-based SCF Ventures. Previously, Revterra raised nearly $500,000 through a combination of angel investments and a National Science Foundation grant.

The funding has gone toward growing Revterra's team, including onboarding three new engineers with some jobs still open, Jawdat says. Additionally, Revterra is building out its new lab space and launching new pilot programs.

Ultimately, Revterra, an inaugural member of Greentown Houston, hopes to be a major player within the energy transition.

"We really want to be an enabling technology in the renewable energy transition," Jawdat says. "One part of that is facilitating the development of large-scale, high-power, fast-charging networks. But, beyond that, we see this technology as a potential solution in other areas related to the clean energy transition."

He shares more about what's next for Revterra on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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