short stories

Nuro scores $600M, Houston e-commerce startup launches ESG tool, and more local innovation news

Nuro, which has several pilot programs on Houston roads, has raised fresh funding — plus a few other short stories of Houston innovation. Photo courtesy of Kroger

The Houston innovation ecosystem has been bursting at the seams with news from innovative tech companies and disruptive Houston startups as we fly through the final quarter of 2021.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a California tech company with a large presence in Houston has raised hundreds of millions in investment funding, a logistics startup has been ranked among the most innovative companies, the city of Houston has named its new sustainability leader, and more.

California tech company with huge presence in Houston raises $600M

Nuro has fresh funding to deploy its tech in Houston and beyond. Photo courtesy of Nuro

California-based Nuro, which has a large presence in Houston, announced the closing of its $600 million series D round led by Tiger Global Management with participation from Baillie Gifford, Fidelity Management & Research Company, LLC, Gaorong Capital, Google, Kroger, SoftBank Vision Fund 1, funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., Woven Capital, and other existing investors, per a news release. The new funding will support the development and deployment of Nuro's autonomous delivery service in communities across the country.

"We're thrilled to have the backing of these prominent investors and world class companies, and honored that they support our vision of improving communities and revitalizing local commerce," says Dave Ferguson, Nuro co-founder and president, in the release. "We believe this investment will allow us to accelerate our commercialization strategy and better everyday life with Nuro's technology."

Nuro has launched a few delivery pilots in Houston over the past few years, including the first Nuro pilot program with Kroger in March 2019, grocery delivery from Walmart that was revealed in December 2019, pharmacy delivery that launched in 2020, and pizza delivery with Domino's that went live in Woodland Heights earlier this year. Most recently, Nuro partnered with FedEx for last-mile delivery.

"Kroger launched its partnership with Nuro in 2018 to explore grocery delivery through autonomous vehicles," said Yael Cosset, senior vice president and chief information officer for Kroger, in the release. "Since then, Kroger and Nuro completed thousands of deliveries to our customers -- driving innovation that supports our expanding seamless ecosystem by creating consistent and rewarding customer experiences with scalable, sustainable, and profitable solutions."

Nuro has also signed a five year strategic partnership with Google Cloud that support the tech needed to run self-driving simulation workloads, machine learning to improve model accuracy, and storage to manage important data from the vehicles, according to the release.

Houston-based digital supply chain company launches ESG tool

Houston industrial e-commerce startup expands into the construction industry

Houston-based GoExpedi has created a new tool. Photo by Colt Melrose for GoExpedi

GoExpedi, an innovative end-to-end digital supply chain and data analytics solutions company, the launch of ESG Command. The new tool is designed to drive environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives. Users on GoExpedi's platform can identify environmentally-friendly products and certified veteran, minority and women-owned businesses.

"Led by some of the world's largest industrial companies, our clients are driving for more sustainable business practices and more equitable workplaces," says Yang Tang, CTO at GoExpedi, in a news release. "In support of these lofty goals and a more prosperous and environmentally-friendly global community, we grew GoExpedi's digital ecosystem to benefit our clients and suppliers. Our goal is to use technical advances in the supply chain to build a brighter future for all."

Last fall, GoExpedi raised $25 million in its series C in order to grow and scale operations. The company is growing its warehouse presence, most recently in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Houston logistics company ranks among the most innovative companies

Sugar Land-based CommtrexPhoto via commtrex.com

Commtrex, based in the Houston area, has been presented the FreightWaves 2022 FreightTech 100 award. The startup's platform connects professionals in the rail industry. The award also honored other innovative and disruptive companies in the freight industry, including Amazon Freight, DHL Supply Chain, FedEx, Flexport, Phillips Connect, Tesla, Uber Freight, Waymo, and Waze.

"Commtrex is honored and excited to be a part of the FreightWaves FreightTech 100," says Commtrex CEO Martin Lew in a news release. "Our mission at Commtrex is to simplify the movement of freight by rail. We are doing this by creating one centralized platform for shippers to efficiently connect with rail-served transloaders, storage providers, terminals, ports, warehouses, and many other resources that support the global supply chain ecosystem. As the largest rail platform in North America, we will continue to provide best-in-class service for all of our members."

Commtrex will also be eligible to be named to the FreightTech 25, which will be announced at the F3 Virtual Experience, November 9-11.

Houston fintech unicorn opens an office in Paris

HighRadius expands to Amsterdam

HighRadius has opened its newest European office. Photo via highradius.com

Continuing its expansion in Europe, HighRadius opened its new Paris office, which will have local staff for all customer facing operations including consulting, sales and marketing. The Houston-headquartered fintech unicorn also has offices in Germany, Amsterdam, the United Kingdom, India and the United States.

"The new Paris office is a sign of cementing our growing leadership in Europe and will bring the HighRadius Autonomous Software platform even closer to French companies," says Jon Keating, vice president and general manager of HighRadius in EMEA. "Our data-driven, AI software is helping global enterprises rethink and transform their finance and accounting processes. Our aim will be to deliver improvements in Days Sales Outstanding and working capital optimization, accelerate the financial close, and improve productivity in under six months for our new clients in France."

Over the past year, HighRadius has deployed over 300 transformation projects, across 37 out of 44 European countries.The HighRadius Autonomous Software platform has processed in excess of €475 billion in finance transactions in the European region alone, per a news release.

City of Houston names new sustainability leader

Priya Zachariah was named chief resilience and sustainability officer. Photo courtesy of the city of Houston

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the appointment of Priya Zachariah as chief resilience and sustainability officer for the city of Houston. She will oversee the city's new Office of Resilience and Sustainability. The position is new and combines previously separate but similar roles, providing for more streamlined efforts to implement the Resilient Houston Plan and the Houston Climate Action Plan, according to a news release from the city.

"Sustainability and Resilience are intrinsically tied to each other. We created our resilience and climate plans to forge a path towards a stronger, more equitable city that not only faces and overcomes disaster scenarios, but builds forward to a better Houston tomorrow," says Mayor Turner in the release. "I am confident Priya will help us meet the goals we have established."

Zachariah was previously the senior program manager for Regional and Long-Range Planning at Houston METRO. While at METRO, Zachariah led the team that successfully delivered the METRONext 2040 transit plan for the Houston Region.

"This is a critical juncture for all of us. We now have the opportunity as a community to turn our focus from resilience and climate planning, to implementation and a realization of the benefits of those plans," says Zachariah in the release. "I am grateful for this opportunity and look forward to working with Mayor Turner and all stakeholders to move us toward a more resilient and equitable future."

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Building Houston

 
 

Fertitta and his family have gifted $50 million to UH's medical school. Photo courtesy

As Houston’s most high-profile billionaire and owner of the posh 5-star Post Oak Hotel and Houston Rockets, Tilman J. Fertitta has become synonymous with over-the-top opulence and big-time entertainment.

But the CEO of the massive Feritta Entertainment empire’s latest move has nothing to do with penthouses or point guards, but rather a legacy, game-changing appropriation meant to aid his home state’s health.

The longtime UH board member and former chairman and his family have just pledged $50 million to the University of Houston College of Medicine. In turn, the new medical school has been christened the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine.

The projected school, upon completion. Rendering courtesy of University of Houston

This landmark gift aims to address the state’s critical primary care physician shortage, (especially in low-income and underserved communities), as well as attract innovation-focused scholars, UH notes.

Additionally, the grant is meant to further clinical and translational research, with an emphasis on population health, behavioral health, community engagement, and the social determinants of health, according to a press release.

Here is how the Fertitta family gift will be distributed:

  • $10 million funds five endowed chairs for faculty hires who are considered national stars in their fields with a focus on health care innovation. This portion of the gift will be matched one-to-one as part of the University’s “$100 Million Challenge” for chairs and professorships, doubling the endowed principal to $20 million.
  • $10 million establishes an endowed scholarship fund to support endowed graduate research stipends/fellowships for medical students.
  • $10 million will cover start-up costs for the Fertitta Family College of Medicine to enhance research activities including facilities, equipment, program costs and graduate research stipends/fellowships.
  • $20 million will create the Fertitta Dean’s Endowed Fund to support research-enhancing activities.

No stranger to writing big checks, Fertitta donated $20 million to UH Athletics — the largest individual donation ever — in 2016 to transform UH’s basketball arena into the now high-tech Fertitta Center.

CultureMap caught up with the CEO (who just sold his Golden Nugget gaming for $1.6 billion), best-selling author, and Billion Dollar Buyer to discuss his landmark gift.

CultureMap: Congratulations on this legacy grant, which has been a long time coming. What does this gift mean to you, now that it’s finally official?

Tilman Fertitta: This was a vision of our chancellors and, you know, I’m on my third, six-year term and not been the chairman for eight years — and we started working on this, seven, eight years ago.

To be able to be in the beginning and the nucleus, and the idea, and what we wanted, and to get the approval from Austin—to watch it come to fruition, how often does somebody get to do a naming gift at the same time they had a lot to do with the creation of the school? So, it was very special in my heart.

CM: Many know you as the CEO of a hospitality empire, author, and even TV personality. But not many know of your commitment to healthcare.


TF: I think there’s one thing in this world that we definitely should always be treated equally on, and that's that’s equal health care for all. This medical school will serve the whole community.

We’re trying to recruit students who want to be primary physicians who will take care of the community that we live in. It’s just something that was very important to me in my whole family.

CM: Academia, scholarship, and research aside, this could essentially be looked at as seed capital for a fledgling operation. Is that a fair assessment?

TF: I know where you’re going with this and yes, it’s no different than business.

I have the vision to know that being in nearly the third largest city in America and a top 100 university in the United States — as University of Houston is according to U.S. News & World Report — that I know what this is going to be in 50 years. It’s no different than looking at another business that you start and you can have the vision to see how successful it'll be in the years to come.

Being on the ground floor of the University of Houston Medical School and being a part of it from its inception, and to help the seed money that will attract other money, I know that in the years to come what a special nationwide medical school this is going to be — because it’s in one of the great cities of America.

So, to be a part of it today and still be a part of it when I’m not here 50 years from now, maybe even sooner than that [laughs], you know, it’s going to be something very special to always be attached to.

CM: Other Houston medical schools here have distinctions in pivotal research or groundbreaking procedures. Is there a specific direction you’d like UH Med to take, going forward?

TF: Honestly, you know, what I’ve been saying? There’s a significant shortage of primary care physicians, not only in the country, but in the state of Texas. We ranked number 47th in the nation.

What we need in the state of Texas, as well in Houston and everywhere, is primary care physicians to take care of your everyday people—and to see them to know if you need a specialist.

I hope that this medical school looks back and we see that they’re graduating more primary care physicians than any other university in the United States and that's our goal. We’re going to be a med school of the community.

CM: You have zero problem with issuing directives, Tilman. What’s your message to the first graduating class, the one that will initially benefit from this $50 million gold mine?

TF: Go out and take care of the people.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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