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

 
 

Just after announcing an investment from United, NEXT Renewable Fuels Inc. scored a SPAC-based IPO. Photo via nextrenewables.com

It’s been a momentous month for Houston-based NEXT Renewable Fuels Inc.

On November 15, United Airlines Ventures announced an investment of up to $37.5 million in the next-generation, low-carbon fuel producing company.

Just a week later, the company revealed it’s going public through a SPAC merger with Industrial Tech Acquisitions II Inc. The deal, expected to close in the second quarter of 2023, assigns a $666 million equity value to NEXT. The publicly traded company will be named NXTCLEAN Fuels Inc.

NEXT, founded in 2016, produces low-carbon fuels from organic feedstock. The company plans to open a biofuel refinery in Port Westward, Oregon, that’s set to start production in 2026. The refinery could produce up to 50,000 barrels per day of sustainable aviation fuel, renewable diesel, and other renewable fuels.

“West Coast states are demanding a clean fuels conversion of the transportation and aviation industries with aggressive targets necessitating rapid increases in clean fuel supplies,” Christopher Efird, executive chairman and CEO of NEXT, says in a news release. “[The company] is advancing toward becoming one of the largest U.S.-based suppliers of clean fuels for these markets, and is investigating and pursuing potential vertical expansion into other clean fuels.”

The proposed public listing of NEXT’s stock on the Nasdaq market and United’s investment are poised to help NEXT reach its goal of becoming a leader in the clean fuel sector. United’s investment appears to be the first equity funding for NEXT.

“Right now, one of the biggest barriers to increasing supply and lowering costs of sustainable fuel is that we don’t have the infrastructure in place to transport it efficiently, but NEXT’s strategic location and assets solve that problem and provide a blueprint for future facilities that need to be built,” Michael Leskinen, president of United Airline Ventures, says in a news release.

United’s investment arm, launched in 2021, targets ventures that will complement the airline’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

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