money moves

Exclusive: Houston sports tech startup raises $1.6M to make stadiums safer and more socially distant

Houston-based sEATz has raised funding to help scale to the demands as fans safely return to stadiums. Photo courtesy of sEATz

When COVID-19 hit and shut down major events including sports and entertainment, a Houston tech startup that created a platform for in-stadium food and merchandise delivery hit a huge obstacle.

However, what seemed like an insurmountable challenge became sEATz's biggest opportunity. As sports management teams start to envision bringing in more fans, they've realized they have to prioritizing limiting crowds and enabling social distancing. SEATz — with its in-seat ordering app and backend software — enables fans to stay seated and avoid lines.

"We really started seeing how integral our platform was going to be for the safe return for sports and entertainment," says Aaron Knape, CEO and co-founder of sEATz."When we started getting that momentum and traction with our clients, our investor base and perspective investor base got really excited."

And those excited investors allowed the startup to raise a second seed round of venture capital to the tune of $1.6 million. In September 2019, sEATz closed a $1.3 million seed round led by Houston-based Valedor Partners. Valedor again led this round, says Knape, and, while the plan was just to raise $1 million, the bar was raised to give the company even more funds to scale.

"We didn't want to just idle through COVID," Knape tells InnovationMap. "We see a tremendous opportunity to grow in the market and to expand the capabilities if the platform."

The funds will go toward marketing opportunities as well as tech development. including integrating with various points of service systems.

"We didn't pivot. We expanded our capabilities," Knape says on how sEATz was always focused on mitigating lines in sports and entertainment settings. "This will in all likelihood will make us a much stronger company coming out of COVID."

sEATz In-seat food delivery is going to be a must as fans return to stadiums safely. Courtesy of sEATz

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Building Houston

 
 

For over a year now, scientists have been testing wastewater for COVID-19. Now, the public can access that information. Photo via Getty Images

In 2020, a group of researchers began testing Houston's wastewater to collect data to help identify trends at the community level. Now, the team's work has been rounded up to use as an online resource.

The Houston Health Department and Rice University launched the dashboard on September 22. The information comes from samples collected from the city's 39 wastewater treatment plants and many HISD schools.

"This new dashboard is another tool Houstonians can use to gauge the situation and make informed decisions to protect their families," says Dr. Loren Hopkins, chief environmental science officer for the health department and professor in the practice of statistics at Rice University, in a news release. "A high level of virus in your neighborhood's wastewater means virus is spreading locally and you should be even more stringent about masking up when visiting public places."

The health department, Houston Water, Rice University, and Baylor College of Medicine originally collaborated on the wastewater testing. Baylor microbiologist Dr. Anthony Maresso, director of BCM TAILOR Labs, led a part of the research.

"This is not Houston's first infectious disease crisis," Maresso says in an earlier news release. "Wastewater sampling was pioneered by Joseph Melnick, the first chair of Baylor's Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology, to get ahead of polio outbreaks in Houston in the 1960s. This work essentially ushered in the field of environmental virology, and it began here at Baylor. TAILOR Labs is just continuing that tradition by providing advanced science measures to support local public health intervention."

It's an affordable way to track the virus, says experts. People with COVID-19 shed viral particles in their feces, according to the release, and by testing the wastewater, the health department can measure important infection rate changes.

The dashboard, which is accessible online now, is color-coded by the level of viral load in wastewater samples, as well as labeled with any recent trend changes. Houstonians can find the interactive COVID-19 wastewater monitoring dashboard, vaccination sites, testing sites, and more information at houstonemergency.org/covid19.

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