money moves

Houston tech company launches $40M fund to invest in early-stage startups

A Houston software company has announced its new venture fund. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston company that recently launched an innovation studio to support startups has now announced that they are launching a new fund to take startup support to the next level.

Houston-based Softeq Development Corporation, a global full-stack development company, launched The Softeq Venture Fund, a $40 million venture fund to invest in seed and series A startup rounds. According to a news release, more than half the fund will be deployed to power the Softeq Venture Studio, Softeq's recently launched accelerator program.

“For generations, the state of Texas has been home to world-renowned tech companies who have greatly contributed to our regional success. As a local entrepreneur, advisor, and angel investor, it’s been my dream for many years to create a venture fund benefiting startups," says Christopher A. Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq, in the release. "I am proud to increase our support of the state’s early-stage tech community. Our investment fund is designed to attract tech visionaries from both inside and outside the state and grow innovative concepts in Houston."

Jumana Capital, a single-family office also based in Houston and founded in 2018, has made a "sizable investment" in the fund, per the release.

“The Softeq team has successfully engineered, developed, and launched technology solutions for enterprise and early-stage companies for 25 years. In partnership with Softeq, we are thrilled to play a role in the creation of their new fund and to support the entrepreneurs that come to Houston to develop cutting-edge technologies and build businesses,” says Chris Martin, managing director at Jumana Capital, in the release.

While the fund will mostly go into investing in and supporting studio companies, Softeq will also tap into the fund to "invest opportunistically."

In October, the company announced the six startups that make up the studio's inaugural cohort. The purpose of the studio was to identify startups with scalable solutions but that need guidance and support from Softeq and its network.

"Historically, most tech startups had a founder with development skills. However, we're now seeing more and more business people, doctors, and other professionals start companies, and they need a strong engineering partner to develop their products," Howard says in an October news release. "We take it several steps further with the Venture Studio providing technology business consulting, development services, and much-needed cash. We're a vested partner, so we also help secure follow-on funding for continued growth."

Applications are open for the spring 2022 cohort. More information and applications are available online.

Christopher A. Howard is the founder and CEO of Softeq. Photo courtesy of Softeq

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Building Houston

 
 

Kerri Smith of the Rice Alliance joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Rice's Clean Energy Accelerator. Photo courtesy of Rice

Kerri Smith knows accelerators. Through her over 18 years at Rice Alliance, she's been responsible for overseeing several and was on the founding leadership team of Houston's first energy tech startup accelerator, SURGE. After years of focusing you accelerating Rice University's student-focused program, Owl Spark, she's transitioned back into the energy tech space.

"I've worked with many types of founders. There's not one unique characteristic that everyone has," Smith says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Our goal is to help move them along and help them move the needle. At the end of the day, we want them to have a good experience and to meet their goals and objectives."

The Rice Alliance's Clean Energy Accelerator launched last summer with its inaugural cohort of 12 cleantech startups, which represented energy sectors from solar and wind innovations to hydrogen, geothermal, and more. Smith says the startups represented a wide range of stages and were from all over — only two companies were from Houston originally. The out-of-town companies were able to make critical partnerships in town and set up a presence and a home here.

"We were able to build a family-like culture among our group, and that was something that was wildly appreciative," Smith, who serves as executive director of the program, says.

Applications for Class 2 of CEA are open until May 31. While the program will offer the same access to mentorship and opportunities, the program will change slightly. CEA will focus on seed and series A-stage companies and will be a hybrid program. Throughout the 10 weeks, which begins in the fall instead of the summer this year, founders will visit Houston three times at the beginning, middle, and the end of the accelerator. Each startup will receive a grant to cover the expenses of the equity-free program.

CEA is just one part of a greater ecosystem of innovation under the umbrella of Rice University, which includes the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, The Ion Houston, Owl Spark, and more. All these entities also play into the greater Houston area's innovation ecosystem.

"Rice Alliance has a strong history of demonstrating collaboration with a number of organizations," Smith says. "I think one of the primary benefits that we have in these collaborative opportunities is to ensure that we are collectively building a capable and diverse pipeline of talent to solve for these problems and provide them with access to experiencing all of the benefits of our ecosystem."

With CEA specifically, some of these collaborations include working with Greentown Houston, which is just next door to the program's home at The Ion, and the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative.

"We're a cog in the wheel. We do really well with that. We play well with others – in ways that the founder has a good experience and can benefit," Smith says.

Smith shares more about what she's looking for in the second cohort of CEA on the podcast episode, as well as what she sees as Houston's role in the energy transition. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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