Houston-based Allganize, founded by Changsu Lee, is taking its $35 million in investment funding and changing the game of AI on a global scale. Photo via Getty Images

It’s taken people some time, but most of society is finally doing a collective 180-degree flip on its once guarded view of artificial intelligence in favor of being open to the idea that it can help humankind in a myriad of positive ways.

That’s why Houston-based software development company Allganize recently secured $20 million in series B funding to propel its industry-leading AI answer bot, Alli.

The All-in-One LLM Enabler Platform, which intelligently responds to customers through natural chat conversation flows, while also enabling the automation of up to 80 percent of support tickets, allows customers to get serviced faster while improving employee productivity.

With the latest $20 million investment by InterVest and Murex Partners, that brings the total funding into Allganize to $35 million. That investor confidence will ultimately help catapult the company’s AI solutions to the next level and help target its planned Japanese Stock Exchange listing by 2025.

“We will lead the expansion of corporate-specific LLM app markets and accelerate the distribution of enterprise automation AI in USA, Korea, and Japan,” says Changsu Lee, CEO of Allganize. “We are dedicated to empowering companies to develop custom LLM applications, enabling practical tasks execution and work automation.”

From programmer to prototype

Allganize’s plans to go public in 2025 stems from Lee’s early ties to Japan. While Lee is originally from Korea, he got his start in Japan, where he was able to secure his first job as a programmer at a gaming company and years later the first investment for the first company he started, ABLAR.

“I'm originally from Korea and when I got a scholarship from the Japanese government, and I went to the research laboratory of Tokyo Institute of Technology, I was not able to speak Japanese at all,” Lee tells InnovationMap. “But that one year actually changed my life. I could speak Japanese while I was there, and I was able to learn a lot of Japanese cultures, and there in the social system, I became a big fan of Japan, and then after that, so I was really looking for an opportunity to do business with Japan, or in Japan.

“I was originally trying to start a company in Japan, and I started to work as a programmer in a gaming company, and at night time, and also the weekends, I was actually building a product to start a company," he continues. "So back then, that product name was ‘Search for You.’ It was every single person's search history, the trees, then if we can find somebody else who's already advanced, but pretty similar search tree, then I was thinking, we can probably, give better suggestions or the recommendations. This is future knowledge that you could probably expect to learn, and if we can have a million users, then we can leverage, those search histories from Google."

Changsu Lee is the CEO of Allganize. Photo via LinkedIn

From there, Lee built the prototype, while making the bulk of his decisions from Japan. Later, while back in Korea, he expanded his business into Japan and met the biggest VC of Japan at an event in Korea and gave a quick pitch of his company’s service. Ultimately, he got the funding and hired Allganize co-founder Yasuo Sato, who he’s been working with for more than 11 years now.

For Lee, it all comes back to where his first idea and mission was believed in and supported, and that place was Japan. Not surprisingly, the bulk of Lee’s customers are in Japan, and it was there that he began his AI journey, by cutting his teeth in machine learning.

“After changing the company name to 5Rocks, we were providing analytics and marketing automation solutions for mobile game companies,” says Lee. “So even back then, we were actually using machine learning, but it was not deep learning. We were using machine learning to predict every single gamer's remaining lifetime in the game. For example, how many days or how many months is this gamer going to stay in the game and how much money are they going to spend in the game for their game items?

“We were predicting this by using machine learning," he continues. "And after we were acquired by the mobile advertising company, I worked as the SVP of the platform there, and I actually got the opportunity to learn the deep learning.

If it’s possible to dig deeper into deep learning, that’s exactly what Lee did as the senior vice president of Tapjoy. Selling his first company and staying onboard in a much more limited role allowed Lee to have a sort of paid internship or technological rotation program into AI and deep learning, which he believed was going to completely change everything and, as a result, was to be the major foundational key to his next venture, Allganize.

Japanese IPO on the horizon

Fast forward to 2023 and the $35 million in investments, Lee and his team are aiming to expand the company’s existing customer base of over 200 enterprises and an IPO on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2025.

Take a quick look around and roll call currently known AI platforms. Google Duet, Microsoft Co-Pilot and, of course, ChatGPT quickly come to mind, right?

Spoiler alert: those are all descendants of Allganize’s Alli All-in-One LLM Enabler Platform, which it continues to enhance. Still, Lee and his team still find themselves having to reassure that AI is not the boogeyman movies like The Terminator or Ex Machina have made it out to be.

“I think the most important thing is in how we can leverage and utilize these AI tools,” says Lee. “And because, at the end of the day, it's still a tool, AI is great. It's really powerful. But it's still the tool for helping humans. For example, for white-collar knowledge workers, productivity is completely different when they are using the AI. AI is also more knowledge-focused, and you can answer all the questions that you have.”

Simply put, AI can add not only add to efficiency and productivity, but it can also answer questions before anyone can think to ask them and fill in the blanks to missing information that one didn’t know was missing or could think was missing.

“As powerful as that sounds, AI still can't replace people because people still have to direct it and guide it to where it needs to go,” says Lee. “And because AI's capability is becoming more and more powerful, it’s important for us to learn how to safely train the AI and how to make the good guidelines that we're using for AI.”

With Allganize focused on large language models, they assist businesses to leverage AI to enhance their employees’ knowledge recall and operational efficiency.

“I'm always saying the LLM model is just an engine of the car,” says Lee. “People are buying cars, people are not buying engines. Of course, the engine is important for the car's performance, but people are actually buying cars, not the engines. So, we are really focusing on what kind of application you really want to do in your organization by using LLM.

"And again, our ultimate focus is all the applications because this AI should be used in the daily life of the enterprise, which is the workflow," he continues. “We call them the LLM app. At the moment, the biggest LLM app is called the cognitive search. So when an employee or the customer is asking a question, then AI is understanding all these internal, the best amount of the documents and knowledge bases and databases and they can give comprehensive correct answers to the users. ... Then AI can actually give better answers and they can also give you another suggestion on what to do next. So, that is the biggest application.”

Additional applications include comparing labor agreements in the labor department or on the human resources side, screening several hundred resumes to find who is the best candidate for an open job requisition. Bonus point: it does all of this without the implicit bias that has been historically problematic for HR teams in their recruiting process.

Allganize is also able to create applications without traditional coding like Java and Python.

“Yeah, that is possible because of the LLM,” says Lee. “Because the LLM is such an amazing AI. So, it can handle most of the logics and data. It has been handled only by the software code. But now, the LLM doesn't cover these things. And so users, like somebody who wants to build any of those complicated workflow automations, they don't really need to write a code and they can just use LLM. And then they can just do visual flowcharts, like the old way. And then that is our app. And then all these things are done just like magic.”

Certainly, there’s been quite a bit of “magic” coming from Allganize and that’s all because of Lee and his innate ability to identify problems that need to be solved before they develop and create applications and solutions to address them ahead of time.

“I think two main things are necessary to get to this point with Allganize,” says Lee. “The first thing is expertise in AI, and the second thing is real domain knowledge.

“And I have been working in enterprise, including telecommunications and gaming a little bit more than 20 years. So, how enterprise is working and how the workflow is being defined and how the company and the teams are collaborating, and I have been with it for 20 years. In my academical background, it's all about AI. And I'm writing a code and seeing the very technical details of all these AI models.”

Lee learned a lot during and after selling his first company that he founded, which put him on the correct path to get the funding needed to realize his dream for Allganize.

“I really want to make this a company which can go long and then big,” says Lee. “And that's why we are working on going public. We are doing business in the U.S., Japan, and South Korea. And at the moment, Japan is our biggest market. So, we are going to go public in Japan in 2025. And from that point, we're going to accelerate our global expansion.”

Nine Houston startups ended 2023 with a fundraise. Photo via Getty Images

These 9 Houston startups start 2024 with fresh funding

q4 2023 vc activity

Houston startups ended 2023 with a flurry of funding news — from several seeds and series As to series C rounds and extensions.

Here are nine Houston startups that secured funding in the fourth quarter of last year, according to reporting by InnovationMap. For further reading, here were 2023's top rounds raised.

Amperon Holdings Inc. closed its $20 million series B in October

It's payday for a startup that's improving analytics for its energy customers. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston startup has raised $20 million in its latest round of funding in order to accelerate its energy analytics and grid decarbonization technology.

Amperon Holdings Inc. announced today that it closed its series B round at $20 million. Energize Capital led the round and the D. E. Shaw group, Veriten, and HSBC Asset Management, an existing investor, joined in on the round. Additionally, two of Amperon's early customers, Ørsted and another strategic utility partner, participated in the series B, which brought Amperon’s total funding to $30 million.

“The energy transition is creating unprecedented market volatility, and Amperon is uniquely positioned to help market participants better navigate the transitioning grid – both in the U.S. and as we expand globally,” Sean Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Amperon, says in the release. Read more.

Velostics raised nearly $2M additional seed funding in October

Velostics has raised additional funding to grow its logistics software. Photo via velostics.com

A Houston company that's providing innovative unified scheduling software for the logistics industries has raised additional seed funding.

Houston-based Velostics Inc. raised $1.95 million, the company announced this week. The additional seed round follows a $2.5 million round announced in 2021. The Velostics platform optimizes scheduling for inbound and outbound trucks, saving companies money across the supply chain and resulting in fewer emissions from idling trucks.

“Scheduling is a major headache for all parties focused on reducing cost and delivering on high customer expectations — our cloud based solution is designed to go live in one day with no apps required,” Gaurav Khandelwal, founder and CEO of Velostics, says in a news release. Read more.

Konect.ai secured $5.5M seed funding in October

Konect.ai is using AI and natural language processing within the automotive retail industry. Image via Getty Images

A Houston startup that's using artificial intelligence and natural language processing to disrupt the retail automotive industry has raised seed funding.

Konect.ai announced a $5.5 million seed investment from Austin-based Silverton Partners. The funding will support the company's development of its software, which hopes to advance communications between auto dealerships and auto tech companies and customers.

"This investment from Silverton Partners is a strong validation of our vision and the hard work of our talented team. With this support, we are poised to accelerate our growth and continue to innovate, bringing the most advanced conversational AI products to the automotive retail industry," Cole Kutschinski, president and CEO of Konect.ai, says in a news release. Read more.

Graylog closed $9M in a series C extension round and $30M in financing in October

Graylog, a Houston SaaS company, has new fuel to scale and develop its product. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston software-as-a-service company has secured $39 million in financing and announced its latest upgrade to its platform.

Graylog, which has created an innovative platform for cybersecurity and IT operations, raised equity funding with participation from new investor Silver Lake Waterman and existing investors Piper Sandler Merchant Banking and Harbert Growth Partners leading the round.

“The growth we are seeing globally is a response to our team’s focus on innovation, a superior user experience, low total cost of ownership, and strong execution from our Go-To-Market and Customer Success teams,” Andy Grolnick, CEO of Graylog, says in a news release. “We expect this momentum to continue as Graylog expands its reach and raises its profile in the security market.” Read more.

RepeatMD raised $50M series A in November

Fresh off a win at the Houston Innovation Awards, RepeatMD has raised funding. Photo by Emily Jaschke/InnovationMap

Just nine months after its seed round, a Houston startup with a software platform for the aesthetic and wellness industry has secured $40 million in venture capital and $10 million in debt facility.

RepeatMD, a SaaS platform, announced today that it's secured $50 million, which includes a $10 million debt facility from Silicon Valley Bank. The round was co-led by Centana Growth Partners and Full In Partners with participation from PROOF and Mercury Fund, which also contributed to the seed round earlier this year.

“Even though the aesthetics and wellness industry has continued to innovate a growing range of life-changing treatments, practices continue to face challenges selling treatments and services that are new and unfamiliar to patients,” Phil Sitter, CEO of RepeatMD, says in the release. Read more.

Kahuna Workforce Solutions secures $21M series B in November

Kahuna Workforce Solutions, which provides HR software solutions, announced it has closed a $21 million series B. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston company with a software platform to enhance skills management operations has raised its series B.

Kahuna Workforce Solutions announced it has closed a $21 million series B funding round led by Baltimore-based Resolve Growth Partners. Kahuna's platform provides its users — which come the from health care, energy, field service, and manufacturing industries — with effective assessment, training and development, and staffing and deployment initiatives.

“We are thrilled to work with Resolve as Kahuna begins the next growth phase. Their expertise in enterprise software, and commitment to innovation and continuous improvement fully aligns with our mission, vision, and goals for Kahuna,” Jai Shah, CEO of Kahuna Workforce Solutions, says in a news release. Read more.

Allganize closed $20 million series B in November

Allganize recently closed a $20 million series B round of funding, bringing its total amount raised to $35 million. Graphic via allganize.ai

A Houston tech startup with an artificial intelligence technology has announced it's raised two rounds of funding as it plans to continue developing its product and IPO in Japan.

Allganize recently closed a $20 million series B round of funding, bringing its total amount raised to $35 million, according to the company. Allganize developed Alli, an all-in-one platform for enabling large language models, that's used by over 200 enterprise and public companies globally, including Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, Nomura Securities, Hitachi, Fujitsu, and KB Securities.

"This investment accelerates our journey towards global expansion and achieving a milestone of listing on the Japanese stock exchange by 2025," Changsu Lee, CEO of Allganize, says in a news release. Read more.

EndoQuest Robotics Inc. announced $42 million series C in December

Houston-based EndoQuest has closed a $42 million round. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston medical device company that's tapping into robotics technology for the operating room has just announced a major chunk of fresh funding.

EndoQuest Robotics Inc. announced that it has closed a $42 million series C to advance its robot technology that's targeting endoluminal and gastrointestinal minimally invasive procedures. Returning investors, CE Ventures Limited and McNair Interests, and new investor, Puma Venture Capital, led the round of funding.

"Our investors share our vision of leveraging robotics to redefine the possibilities in minimally invasive procedures," Kurt Azarbarzin, CEO of EndoQuest Robotics, says in a press release. Read more.

Digital Wildcatters announced $2.5M seed in December

Digital Wildcatters just raised $2.5 million in funding. Image courtesy

With $2.5 million in fresh funding, Digital Wildcatters is on its way to keep empowering the evolving energy workforce.

Digital Wildcatters, a Houston company that's providing a community for the next generation of energy professionals, has closed its seed plus funding round at $2.5 million. The round by energy industry veteran Chuck Yates, who also hosts his podcast "Chuck Yates Needs a Job" on the Digital Wildcatters' podcast network.

"Our industry's survival depends on recruiting the next generation of energy workers. We must adapt to their digital, content-rich world, as we currently lag behind, like a VHS tape in a Netflix world. Digital Wildcatters is our path to modernization," Yates says. Read more.

Allganize recently closed a $20 million series B round of funding, bringing its total amount raised to $35 million. Graphic via allganize.ai

Houston AI company raises $35M, plans for Japanese IPO

fresh funding

A Houston tech startup with an artificial intelligence technology has announced it's raised two rounds of funding as it plans to continue developing its product and IPO in Japan.

Allganize recently closed a $20 million series B round of funding, bringing its total amount raised to $35 million, according to the company. Allganize developed Alli, an all-in-one platform for enabling large language models, that's used by over 200 enterprise and public companies globally, including Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, Nomura Securities, Hitachi, Fujitsu, and KB Securities.

The funding will go toward expanding corporate-specific LLM app markets and expanding enterprise automation AI in the United States, Korea, and Japan. The company has a goal of listing on the Japanese Stock Exchange by 2025.

"This investment accelerates our journey towards global expansion and achieving a milestone of listing on the Japanese stock exchange by 2025. Our focus is on leveraging LLMs to revolutionize work productivity. We are dedicated to empowering companies to develop custom LLM applications, enabling practical tasks execution and work automation,” Changsu Lee, CEO of Allganize, says in a news release.

In the latest round, InterVest and Murex Partners joined existing investors ATINUM Investment and Stonebridge Ventures.

"Allganize's generative AI-based services have garnered acclaim for their technological excellence and practicality among global financial firms. We foresee substantial revenue growth following this investment," Kang Dong-min, vice president of Murex, says in the release.

Allganize was founded in 2017 in California and has offices in Houston, Seoul, and Tokyo. The company's customers range from the insurance and financial services to oil and gas, construction, and more.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.

Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.