3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Craig Ceccanti of T-Minus Solutions, Katie Eick of Rockin' Pets, Rollin' Vets, and Blair Garrou of Mercury. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from venture capital to software — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Craig Ceccanti, founder and CEO of T-Minus Solutions

Words of wisdom from a founder who's done this all before. And then again. And again. Photo courtesy of T-Minus Solutions

After starting a company or two — or three — Craig Ceccanti has some observations on his own entrepreneurial journey. He also has some hard lessons learned, and he shared four of them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"I’m not immune to making mistakes," he writes. "As a serial entrepreneur and having started, led, and mentored various successful companies, I have made some mistakes and have been lucky enough to learn from them." Read more.

Katie Eick, founder and CEO of Rockin' Pets, Rollin' Vets

Katie Eick, founder and CEO of Rockin' Pets Rollin' Vets joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss her company's growth. Photo courtesy of Rollin' Vets

For years, Dr. Katie Eick wanted to provide mobile veterinary care for her patients, but the technology wasn't where it needed to be. She took a gamble and bought her first truck in 2016 as ridesharing and mobile ordering took off. A new business of convenience was booming, before blasting off again amid the pandemic.

Now, the founder and CEO of Rockin' Pets, Rollin' Vets says she's got the equipment, the market demand, and a $5 million round of investment to expand her business model.

The other challenge Eick says she faced early on was a misconception that mobile vet care was limited to vaccinations.

"We provide the highest level of veterinary care — right in your driveway," Eick says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, explaining how each of her trucks — she now has five — have the capability to provide all sorts of treatment. Read more.

Blair Garrou, founder and managing partner of Mercury

Blair Garrou will be recognized as the 2022 Trailblazer Award recipient at the Houston Innovation Awards Gala on November 9. Photo courtesy

The name Blair Garrou is quite familiar to most within Houston's startup and innovation ecosystem. As co-founder of Mercury, which launched in 2005, he's seen the city's tech world expand tenfold.

"Although we are in the midst of a recession, Houston continues to grow in three key industrial sectors of innovation – EnergyTech/ClimateTech, HealthTech, and SpaceTech. Our city has the opportunity to be a national leader in each of these sectors, and drive tremendous job growth in the future," he tells InnovationMap.

Garrou was nominated and selected by a group of judges to be the 2022 Trailblazer Award recipient, and will be honored at the Houston Innovation Awards Gala on November 9. Read more.

Blair Garrou will be recognized as the 2022 Trailblazer Award recipient at the Houston Innovation Awards Gala on November 9. Photo courtesy

2022 Trailblazer Award recipient named for Houston Innovation Awards

paving the way

In less than a month, InnovationMap and Houston Exponential will honor dozens of movers and shakers within the Houston innovation community at the 2022 Houston Innovation Awards — and the first award recipient has officially been named.

Blair Garrou, managing director and founder of Houston-based venture capital firm Mercury, has been named the 2022 Trailblazer Award honoree. This award was established to honor a Houston innovation leader and advocate who's making a lasting impact on the Houston innovation community.

"I am very honored to be nominated and named the Trailblazer Award recipient. As many of us who contribute to Houston’s innovation community know, it’s a decades-long commitment," Garrou says.

Last year, the Trailblazer Award was introduced and honored Barbara Burger, former president of Chevron Technology Ventures. Garrou is the second individual to receive the recognition.

"This award is even more special for me since it’s the year after my good friend and colleague, Barbara Burger, was named as the inaugural award winner," he tells InnovaitonMap. "Barbara is a trailblazer for our tech ecosystem in so many ways, especially around diversity and inclusion. Her leadership has provided a framework for me, Mercury, and other leaders and organizations to continue growing Houston’s tech ecosystem in an inclusive, sustainable manner."

Mercury, founded in 2005 by Garrou and Dan Watkins, is an early-stage venture capital organization focused on software technology across the country — particularly focused on middle America or "fly-over" states. According to its website, the VC has created over $9 billion of value within is investment portfolio.

In addition to Mercury, Garrou helped launch and was the director of operations for the Houston Technology Center and led the formation of the Houston Angel Network. He also serves in board and/or advisory roles for The Artemis Fund, DivInc, Houston Exponential, HTX Impact Fund, UTHealth, and more.

"The main purpose of any innovation ecosystem is to help entrepreneurs succeed. These communities need leaders, feeders and instigators," says Scott Gale, executive director of Halliburton Labs and 2022 awards judge. "Blair transcends all of these distinct and critical roles for Houston."

Garrou will be honored among the finalists and winners at the Houston Innovation Awards Gala on November 9 at the Ion. Buy tickets now. For sponsorship information, email Chris Buckner at cbuckner@gowcompanies.com

"So many tiles in the mosaic of Houston’s Innovation Ecosystem have Blair’s fingerprints on them," Gale continues. "The earliest echoes of his influence include the Houston Technology Center (a pre-cursor in many ways to Houston Exponential) and the Houston Angel Network. Now decades later his influence continues to reverberate as he continues to be that first believer that Houston needed and that startups are so often looking for. A trailblazer in every sense of the word."

A brief Q&A with this year's honoree:

Houston's innovation ecosystem has evolved significantly since you founded Mercury in 2005. How would you describe your impact on that growth and evolution?

I’ve been helping to grow Houston’s tech ecosystem since 1999, when I joined the Houston Technology Center. Working at HTC, launching the Houston Angel Network, and then working at Genesis Park, gave me a foundation of venture experience, a network, and a community-oriented framework that helped guide my next twenty years. I was greatly inspired by the leaders of those organizations and how they gave back to the Houston community. I hope that my efforts have inspired other tech leaders to give of themselves, while they work on their own businesses, so that Houston can continue to reach its true potential.

​What excites you most about Houston's future as an innovation community?

The best is yet to come. When HX was formed in 2017, VC investment in Houston was less than $300 million per year. In 2021 that figure grew to over $2 billion. Over the last five years, our city has had major growth in almost all areas that matter for a tech ecosystem – the launch of accelerators and coworking centers, tech talent migration, venture capital investment, and venture capital fund formation. Although we are in the midst of a recession, Houston continues to grow in three key industrial sectors of innovation – EnergyTech/ClimateTech, HealthTech, and SpaceTech. Our city has the opportunity to be a national leader in each of these sectors, and drive tremendous job growth in the future.

What’s your favorite part of your role working with startup founders and other innovators?

I love helping founders navigate the ups and downs of the startup lifecycle. From providing founders frameworks to help grow their business, to taking midnight calls to “walk them off the ledge” of anxiety, my job is to be present and accountable for founders and truly advocating for their success.

HX has been acquired by InnovationMap's parent company. Photo via Getty Images

Exclusive: Houston Exponential acquired by local media and innovation group

M&A

The nonprofit organization established in 2017 to advance awareness and opportunities for the Houston Innovation Ecosystem has been acquired by a local business.

Gow Companies has acquired of the assets of Houston Exponential. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. (Gow Companies' portfolio includes InnovationMap, as well as CultureMap, SportsMap, sports festival provider Pokatok, sports tech accelerator Pokatok Labs, ESPN radio, a sports tech-focused SPAC, and other strategic entities.)

The company plans to build upon the organization's mission and increase programming and access while leveraging new revenue streams, according to a news release.

“To say that HX was the ‘shot-in-the-arm’ Houston needed to accelerate our tech and innovation growth would be an understatement,” says Blair Garrou, HX board chair and managing director of early-stage venture capital firm Mercury. “HX has helped unlock the collaborative potential of founders and investors in the startup scene, local government, academic institutions, and the corporate sector to connect, promote and to attract talent, companies, and capital to Houston. This transaction celebrates that success and acknowledges the next stage of Houston’s evolution.”

Some of the accomplishments HX has observed in its tenure includes growing local VC activity from $284 million in 2016 to $2.34 billion in 2021, five Houston startups reaching valuations of more than $1 billion, increased local presence for several large tech companies, and attracting and standing up startup development organizations such as The Ion, Greentown Labs, The Cannon, and more.

The acquisition includes HX's brand and events — including the Houston Tech Rodeo and Houston’s tech gala, The Listies — and will recognize the sponsorships that have already been contracted with respect to upcoming events. The two events are in line with Gow Companies' mission, according to the release.

“HX plays a critical and unique role in the ecosystem and truly serves as Houston’s front door to our entrepreneurial community,” says Lawson Gow, partner of Gow Companies and founder of the Cannon. “Gow Companies is a collection of businesses that can be leveraged to advance the impactful work that HX has been doing in our city over the past five years.”

Andrew White (left) and Blair Garrou are at the helm of the new black check company. Photos courtesy

Houston VC leaders announce SPAC with $175M IPO

blank check

A blank check company has hit the Nasdaq today with a $175 million initial public offering.

Mercury Ecommerce Acquisition Corp. announced its IPO of 17,500,000 units at a price of $10 per unit to be listed on The Nasdaq Capital Market with the ticker symbol "MEACU" beginning today,

The company is led by Chairman Blair Garrou, managing director of Mercury Fund, and President and CEO Andrew White, a limited partner of Mercury Fund and president of Sweat Equity Partners.

According to a press release from the SPAC, the company was "formed for the purpose of effecting a merger, share exchange, asset acquisition, share purchase, reorganization, or similar business combination with one or more businesses or entities."

"While the company may pursue an investment opportunity in any business or industry, it intends to focus its search for a target business or businesses in the e-commerce technology and tech-enabled services industry in North America," reads the release.

A close is expected by the company on July 30, subject to customary closing conditions. Needham & Company is managing the offering.

Molecule has closed new funding in order to focus on the energy transition. Photo via Getty Images

Houston SaaS startup closes $12M series A funding round with support from local VC

money moves

A Houston startup with a software-as-a-service platform for the energy transition has announced it closed a funding round with participation from a local venture capital.

Molecule closed its $12 million series A, and Houston-based Mercury Fund was among the company's investors. The company has a cloud-based energy trading and risk management solution for the energy industry and supports power, natural gas, crude/refined products, chemicals, agricultural commodities, softs, metals, cryptocurrencies, and more.

"We led the seed round of Molecule upon their formation and are excited to participate in their series A," says Blair Garrou, co-founder and managing director of Mercury, in a news release. "Molecule's success in the ETRM/CTRM industry, especially in relation to electricity and renewables, positions them as the company to beat for the energy transition in the 2020s."

The company will use its new funds to further build out its product as well as introduce offerings to manage renewables credits, according to the release.

"In 2020, we realized that electricity — the growth commodity of the 2020s — represented over half of Molecule's customer base, and we decided to double down," says Sameer Soleja, founder and CEO of Molecule, in the release. "We were also rated the No. 1 SaaS ETRM/CTRM vendor. With this fundraise, we have the fuel to become No. 1 SaaS platform for power and renewables, and then the market leader overall.

"Molecule is ready to power the energy transition," Soleja continues.

Molecule's last round of funding closed in November 2014. The $1.1 million seed round was supported by Mercury Fund and the Houston Angel Network.

Houston-based Cart.com, which equips e-commerce businesses with a suite of software services, has raised $45 million in venture capital investment since its founding in September. Photo via cart.com

Houston-based e-commerce software startup and Amazon competitor raises $25M in its series A

Money moves

An end-to-end e-commerce services provider based in Houston has closed its series A round of financing led by a Houston venture capital group.

Cart.com announced the closing of its $25 million led by Houston-based Mercury Fund and Florida-based Arsenal Growth with contribution from Austin-based Moonshots Capital and Ohio-based Scarlet Venture Fund. The new round follows its $20 million Seed round led by Amsterdam-based Bearing Ventures.

The company was founded last September by two former entrepreneurs — Omair Tariq, former executive at Home Depot and COO of Blinds.com, serves as CEO and Jim Jacobsen, co-founder and former CEO of RTIC Outdoors, serves as executive chairman.

"We know the pain points brands face in the e-commerce value chain because we have experienced them firsthand. We built Cart.com to solve those problems and deliver unequaled value for brands from a single platform," Jacobsen says in a news release.

The duo wanted to create a suite of software solutions that allows brands to "grow their e-commerce capabilities with less friction than the fragmented plug-in and vendor intensive approach available today," according to the release.

"The current e-commerce offerings favor the service providers, not the brands," Tariq says in the release. "We are on a mission to flip that dynamic and put the sellers back in charge of their e-commerce journey and their customer relationships. Our team will continue to obsess over our brands' success, so they can obsess over their customers. This is what will create tremendous long term shareholder value and be the true measure of our success."

The e-commerce-as-a-service, or ECaaS, company will use the funds to grow to meet increasing customer demand and hire new team members. Per the release, Cart.com has an "aggressive growth strategy" and has already made five acquisitions to date, including storefront software platform AmeriCommerce, a storage supplies business with fulfillment services across the country, and two digital marketing agencies.

"Competition in the e-commerce market is reaching a precipice, and only those companies with the pedigree, vision, technology and the been-there-done-that perspective will be able to truly shift the surge away from market monopolies and provide power back to the brands themselves to the benefit of the businesses and their customers," says Blair Garrou, co-founder and managing director at Mercury. "Our financial commitment illustrates our confidence in the mission and strategy of Cart.com. The team assembled has incredible opportunity to be a true market leader and pioneer ECaaS in the e-commerce services space."

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Houston biopharma company launches equity crowdfunding campaign

money moves

A clinical-stage company headquartered in Houston has opened an online funding campaign.

FibroBiologics, which is developing fibroblast cell-based therapeutics for chronic diseases, launched a campaign with equity crowdfunding platform StartEngine. The platform lets anyone — regardless of their net worth or income level — to invest in securities issued by startups.

The funding, according to a press release, will be used to support ongoing operations of Fibrobiologics and advance its clinical programs in multiple sclerosis, degenerative disc disease, wound care, extension of life, and cancer.

"We're excited to partner with StartEngine on this campaign. StartEngine has over 600,000 investors as part of their community and has raised over half a billion dollars for its clients," says FibroBiologics' Founder and CEO Pete O'Heeron, in the release.

"This is an exciting time at FibroBiologics as we continue progressing our clinical pipeline and developing innovative therapies to treat chronic diseases," he continues. "This new funding will fuel our growth in the lab and bring us one step closer to commercialization."

The campaign, launched this week, already has over 100 investors, at the time of publication, and has raised nearly $2 million, according to the page. The minimum investment is set at around $500, and the company's indicated valuation is $252.57 million.

In 2021, FibroBiologics announced its intention of going public. Last year, O'Heeron told InnovationMap on the Houston Innovators Podcast of the company's growth plans as well as the specifics of the technology.

Only two types of cells — stem cells and fibroblasts — can be used in cell therapy for a regenerative treatment, which is when specialists take healthy cells from a patient and inject them into a part of the body that needs it the most. As O'Heeron explains in the podcast, fibroblasts can do it more effectively and cheaper than stem cells.

"(Fibroblasts) can essentially do everything a stem cell can do, only they can do it better," says O'Heeron. "We've done tests in the lab and we've seen them outperform stem cells by a low of 50 percent to a high of about 220 percent on different disease paths."


Texas ranks as a top state for female entrepreneurs

women in business

Texas dropped three spots in Merchant Maverick’s annual ranking of the top 10 states for women-led startups.

The Lone Star State landed at No. 5 thanks in part to its robust venture capital environment for women entrepreneurs. Last year, Texas ranked second, up from its No. 6 showing in 2021.

Merchant Maverick, a product comparison site for small businesses, says Texas “boasts the strongest venture capital scene” for women entrepreneurs outside California and the Northeast. The state ranked fourth in that category, with $6.5 billion invested in the past five years.

Other factors favoring Texas include:

  • Women solely lead 22 percent of all employees working for a business in Texas (No. 4).
  • Texas lacks a state income tax (tied for No. 1).

However, Texas didn’t fare well in terms of the unemployment rate (No. 36) and the rate of business ownership by women (No. 29). Other Texas data includes:

  • Average income for women business owners, $52,059 (No. 19).
  • Early startup survival rate, 81.9 percent (No. 18).

Appearing ahead of Texas in the 2023 ranking are No. 1 Colorado, No. 2 Washington, No. 3 California, and No. 4 Arizona.

Another recent ranking, this one from NorthOne, an online bank catering to small businesses, puts Texas at No. 7 among the 10 best states for women entrepreneurs.

NorthOne says Texas provides “a ton of opportunities” for woman entrepreneurs. For instance, it notches one of the highest numbers of women-owned businesses in the country at 1.4 million, 2.1 percent of which have at least 500 employees.

In this study, Texas is preceded by Colorado at No. 1, Nevada at No. 2, Virginia at No. 3, Maryland at No. 4, Florida at No. 5, and New Mexico at No. 6. The rankings are based on eight metrics, including the percentage of woman-owned businesses and the percentage of women-owned businesses with at least 500 employees.