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

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."

2020 brought over $700 million in venture funding deals into Houston, and startups saw larger deals in the first half of the year with a growing interest in angel activity. Image via Getty Images

Report: 2020 brought fewer, larger VC deals for Houston — but angel investment is on the rise

venture capital update

Houston startup's venture capital deals continue to grow in 2020, according to a new report from Houston Exponential. Last year, VC dollars were up, while deal count was down, representing more mature deals coming into the ecosystem — but the second half of the year was defined by a growth in angel investment interest.

The report by Serafina Lalany, chief of staff for HX, found that the Bayou City brought saw $715 million across 117 VC deals, according to Pitch Book data. It's the fourth year Houston has seen VC growth, and last year the city reported over $563 million across 168 deals.

"Houston has put concerted efforts into building its innovation ecosystem," says Harvin Moore, president of HX, in a release, "and 2020's record-breaking results show we are seeing not only resilience in the tech sector, but a significant increase in the rate of formation and success of growth-stage companies, which have an outsized effect on our local economy in terms of high paying job potential and Houston's increasing attractiveness as a great place to work."

Last August, HX published a report on the first half of the year and that study found that Houston — facing the challenges of both the pandemic and the oil price drop — managed to see a 7 percent increase in funding compared to the national average of 2.5 percent. With the second half of the year, the city's VC increase from last year was over 25 percent and up 252 percent since 2014.

The other difference between the first and second halves of the year for Houston VC was the stages of the deals made. Most of Houston's larger deals took place in the first and second quarters — and even the beginning of Q3 — of 2020:

But the second half of the year seemed like Houston's earlier stage VC activity returned, and Blair Garrou, managing partner at Houston-based Mercury Fund, confirmed this to InnovationMap on the Houston Innovator's Podcast in December.

"Seed rounds have definitely bounced back. We're seeing a lot of seed activity, because there's been a lot of seed funds raised," Garrou said on the podcast, adding that he's observed an increase in angel investment interest. "People are realizing that money is in innovation and tech — especially in software."

In her report, Lalany found that in Houston, angel investments are out-pacing seed, creating a "competitive environment."

"The addition of multi-stage and nontraditional investment firms into the arena has created upward pressure in deal valuations and sizes. The average seed round in 2015 was $1 million, whereas today it's double that," the report reads. "With these firms turning inward to focus on protecting their current investments at the start of the pandemic, the propensity for smaller, more riskier investments have declined."

Stephanie Campbell, managing director of the Houston Angel Network, said she's seen a rise in new membership for the organization. Last August, she was on track to get to 150 members — up from just 60 in 2018.

"Despite COVID, we've continued to grow," Campbell told InnovationMap, adding that she's heard investors express that they have more time now to dive in. "People are very much still interested in learning about deploying their capital into early-stage venture. They're looking for a network of like-minded individuals."

In contrast to this early stage activity, the VC activity that was still occurring was defined by larger deals. With VC essentially halting in March and April — especially in cities like Houston, Garrou adds — it makes sense that investors wanted more "sure things" and would invest more funds into companies they already know, versus being able to source new deals in person.

"When you go to later stages, there are a lot fewer deals going on," Garrou continues on the podcast. "Now, there may be larger investments being made, but I think they are into fewer companies, and I think that's just due to the the pandemic and the ability just to not be able to do face-to-face."

As Houston moves through 2021, the city is poised well for more growth and a continued diversification from just oil and gas, as Moore says in the release.

"Houston Exponential was created four years ago by civic and business leaders to deal with an existential problem: our dependence on the energy and medical sector without a thriving startup culture to lead us towards a future that will look very different from the past," he says. "COVID and the de-carbonization movement have made that need much more urgent — it's both a huge challenge and an enormous opportunity."

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Abbey Donnell of Work & Mother, Blair Garrou of Mercury Fund, and Randa Duncan Williams. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In the first weekly roundup of Houston innovators of 2021, I'm introducing you to three innovators across the city — one of the richest people in Houston, a venture capital expert, and a female founder with big plans for 2021.

Abbey Donnell, founder of Work & Mother

Abbey Donnell is looking forward to growing Work & Mother in 2021. Courtesy of Work & Mother

Abbey Donnell is making sure that when new moms go back to work in downtown Houston in 2021, they'll have a suite of professional, spa-like rooms to pump in. Work & Mother has recently opened its latest location in Three Allen Center and designed it with comfort and safety in mind.

"Pumping at work has always been incredibly hard for mothers. Now, with the pandemic, there are the added complications of germ spread, closed community spaces, and repurposed wellness rooms, which makes pumping at work nearly impossible. Yet, most employers still have a legal obligation to provide a proper space for nursing mothers," says Abbey Donnell, founder and CEO of Work & Mother, in a news release. Click here to read more.

Blair Garrou, managing director of Mercury Fund

Blair Garrou joined the Houston Innovators Podcast this week. Photo via MercuryFund.com

Despite the rollercoaster of a year 2020 has been for venture capital, Blair Garrou says he's never been busier. One thing he's seen increased is an interest in early stage investing — this, he says, is happening as the pandemic has shown a spotlight on the importance of tech and ramped up digitization in business.

"People are realizing that money is in innovation and tech — especially in software," Garrou says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I can't tell you how many individual investors who call interested in investing in Mercury as a fund or our companies. People are not getting the return they desire from the markets and they are seeing tech companies do great things." Click here to read more and stream the podcast episode.

Randa Duncan Williams, owner of Texas Monthly

One of the four richest people in Houston, Randa Duncan Williams owns Texas Monthly. Photo courtesy of Texas Monthly

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the richest of them all? Nevermind, mirror. Forbes just told us. Houston's Duncan family, with a net worth of $22 billion, who once again appear on the annual Forbes ranking of America's richest families. (The Duncans come in at No. 11 on the Forbes list.)

The four children of pipeline mogul Dan Duncan — Randa Duncan Williams, Milane Frantz, Dannine Duncan Avara, and Scott Duncan — inherited a $10 billion estate from their father when he died in 2010. The net worth of each heir exceeds $5 billion.

Randa enjoys the highest profile among the four Duncan siblings. She is chairwoman of Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners, the pipeline giant founded by her father, and owns Austin-based Texas Monthly magazine. Click here to read more.

Blair Garrou joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss venture capital investing in 2020. Photo via mercuryfund.com

Houston expert shares how COVID-19 has affected venture capital locally and beyond

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 64

Locally, Blair Garrou, managing director at Mercury Fund, was among the first in the Houston innovation ecosystem to recognize what COVID-19 could do to the world of venture capital, innovation, and more.

At a panel for Houston Exponential's Tech Rodeo on March 6, Garrou observed that the pandemic had the potential to affect the venture capital market regarding valuations and investing.

"I never expected what happened, I just expected the markets to correct," says Garrou on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

While the pandemic posed challenges for startups and investors alike, Garrou says he sees some silver linings to how COVID-19 affected tech adoption. Non-tech and innovation companies have lost a lot of value, according to the S&P 500 Index, but tech and innovation companies have doubled their values. Some experts say that the pandemic has pushed user adoption by a decade or more.

"Everyone finally understands that digital transformation and automation are here to stay," Garrou says. "Just look at our backyard and what the oil and gas industry has gone through. ... I don't think anyone could have through through all of this, but it's put tech ecosystems on notice because what's happened since the end of April to December is unprecedented in the tech space."

With so much uncertainty, it's safe to say the volume of venture capital investing is down, but over the past several months, VC activity has returned, Garrou says. Now, Garrou says he sees later stage deals — like series C rounds — are down, but early stage investing is up as individual investors want in on tech.

"People are realizing that money is in innovation and tech — especially in software," Garrou says. "I can't tell you how many individual investors who call interested in investing in Mercury as a fund or our companies. People are not getting the return they desire from the markets and they are seeing tech companies do great things."

Garrou shares more about what all he's keeping a close eye on as we enter a new year, plus what's happening at Mercury Fund in the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


From new board members at Houston Exponential to startups receiving funding, here are the latest short stories of Houston innovation. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

Houston tech company receives corporate investment, HX names new board members, and more innovation news

short stories

Houston's innovation ecosystem has been booming with news, and it's likely some might have fallen through the cracks.

For this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a startup snags funding from a new corporate venture group, a blockchain startup gets major kudos, CTV's latest investment, and more.

HX names newest board members

HX has five more members of its board. Photo courtesy

Houston Exponential has announced five new members to its governing board. Joining the group is:

  • Stephanie Campbell, managing director of the Houston Angel Network and general partner at The Artemis Fund
  • Martha Castex-Tatum, Houston City Council member
  • Gordon Daugherty, co-founder and president of Capital Factory
  • Emily Keeton, CFO of Mercato and co-founder of Station Houston
  • Roberto Moctezuma, founder and CEO of Fractal River
The board is chaired by Barbara Burger of Chevron and Chevron Technology Ventures. She will continue on as chair until the end of next year, when Blair Garrou of Mercury Fund will take over.

New corporate venture fund makes first investment

Houston-based SmartAC emerged from stealth mode this summer. Photo courtesy of smartac.com

Pinnacle Ventures, a corporate venture fund created by Pinnacle based just outside of Houston in Pasadena, announced the company has invested in Houston-based SmartAC.com, a member-based technology platform that monitors the health of air conditioning systems.

The deal is Pinnacle Ventures' first investment and will help SmartAC.com expand their service offerings to homeowners and top-level HVAC service providers.

"We are excited to have Pinnacle Ventures invest in our company and to have Ryan Sitton, founder and CEO of Pinnacle, join our board," says Josh Teekell, founder and CEO of SmartAC.com, in a news release. "The capital provided by Pinnacle Ventures will help us accelerate the growth required to meet our customer demand, which has scaled quickly since our launch in June.

"Additionally, this capital will help us power a new residential connected service economy for a $30 billion industry while offering our service partners a way to increase loyalty through improved transparency and customer experience," Teekell continues. "We're very much aligned with Pinnacle Ventures' focus on improving reliability through innovation and are confident that this investment will help us support our end users."

Data Gumbo recognized as an innovative blockchain company

CB Insights ranked 50 blockchain companies and one Houston startup made the cut. Photo via CB Insights

CB Insights released its inaugural Blockchain 50 ranking and named Houston-based Data Gumbo among the top blockchain companies in the world.

"The Blockchain 50, which we've created in conjunction with Blockdata, was born out of a desire to reduce that uncertainty and recognize the pioneering companies using the blockchain," says CB Insights CEO Anand Sanwal in the study. "This inaugural class of the Blockchain 50 is tackling a range of use cases across trade finance, capital markets, exchanges and more and are being used by banks, governments and major retailers."

Combined, the 50 companies included in the ranking have raised over $3 billion across 113 deals since 2017.

"Being named to this CB Insights' list is an honor and testament to the power of Data Gumbo's blockchain network GumboNet," says Andrew Bruce, CEO and Founder, of Data Gumbo in a news release. "Our smart contracts enable companies to leverage blockchain technology across the global business infrastructure to capture critical cost savings and value, forging a new foundation for commercial transactions: one based on trust, transparency, speed and visibility."

Currux Vision is deploying its technology in California

The Houston company's technology has been tested in California. Photo via currux.vision

Houston-based Currux Vision, which uses infra-tech artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions for smart city infrastructure, has conducted testing with the city of San Jose, California, and its department of transportation.

According to the tests, Currux Vision's SmartCity ITS can operate at 99 percent accuracy in the city. Moreover, Currux Vision can achieve high resolution results with older legacy digital and analog camera systems that offer lower resolution. Testing included but was not limited to vehicle detection and classification, turning movement counts, pedestrian counts, bicycle discrimination, stopped vehicles, and speeding, according to a press release.

"Increasing urbanization, traffic, mode shift, and increasing focus on safety drive the urgent need for a next-generation traffic management solution like our SmartCity ITS," says Alex Colosivschi, founder and CEO of Currux Vision, in the release. "We believe that efficient mobility and being able to do more with less creates economic opportunities, enables trade, improves quality of life, and facilitates access to markets and services effectively leveraging resources. ... We are happy to have worked with a great partner like San José's Department of Transportation to prove these transportation solutions."

Chevron Technology Ventures invests in software company

Chevron Technology Ventures, led by Barbara Burger, has announced its latest investment. Courtesy of CTV

Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures has invested in a Denver-based container platform company's latest round. Nubix today announced it has closed $2.7 million in seed financing led by Tuscan Management with strategic investment from Chevron Technology Ventures, in addition to participation from other new investors.

"Businesses worldwide are investing in digital transformation initiatives with IoT-based solutions," says Rachel Taylor, Nubix co-founder and CEO, in a news release. "Our unique innovation in container and services technology enables unprecedented agility and safety when building, deploying and managing applications at the edge.

"We're delivering on digital transformation's requirements for agile compute at the edge, empowering organizations to analyze data in real-time where the data is actually created. This is a massive market opportunity for Nubix and we look forward to working hand-in-hand with our new investors as we drive agility and intelligence to the edge."

Golden Section Ventures invests in Austin startup

GSV has invested in Accelerist's impact-driven software. Image via accelerist.com

Austin-based Accelerist Inc. raised a $1 million investment round led by Houston-based Golden Section Ventures to catalyze the company's growth plans. Accelerist specializes in social impact partnership technology that nonprofits use to prospect, screen, access and measure the efficacy of their relationships with each other.

"We are very impressed with what Brittany (Hill, CEO and founder) and her team have built and are excited to join the journey," says Dougal Cameron, General Partner at GSV. "We are confident that Accelerist can be the standard of excellence for social impact partnership technology. This solution is more needed than ever."

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Houston again recognized as a top major city of the future

Bragging rights

Houston, the future looks bright.

A new study from the fDi Intelligence division of the Financial Times places Houston at No. 7 among the top major cities of the future for 2021-22 across North, South, and Central America. Among major cities in the Americas, Houston appears at No. 3 for business friendliness and No. 4 for connectivity.

"Houston is known as one of the youngest, fastest-growing, and most diverse cities anywhere in the world. I am thrilled that we continue to be recognized for our thriving innovation ecosystem," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is quoted as saying in the fDi study.

Toronto leads the 2021-22 list of the top major cities in the Americas, followed by San Francisco, Montreal, Chicago, and Boston.

The rankings are based on data in five categories:

  • Economic potential
  • Business friendliness
  • Human capital and lifestyle
  • Cost effectiveness
  • Connectivity

Houston's no stranger to the list. Last year, the city ranked No. 3 on the same study, and in 2019, claimed the No. 5 spot.

"The fact that Houston consistently ranks among the top markets for foreign direct investment speaks to our region's connectivity and business-friendly environment," says Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer at the Greater Houston Partnership. "Many of the industry sectors we target for expansion and relocation in Houston are global in nature — from energy 2.0 and life sciences to aerospace and digital tech. The infrastructure and diverse workforce that make these prime growth sectors for us among domestic players are equally attractive to international companies looking to establish or strengthen ties in the Americas."

International trade is a cornerstone of the Houston area's economy. In 2020, the region recorded $129.5 billion in exports, according to the Greater Houston Partnership. China ranked as the region's top trading partner last year, followed by Mexico, Brazil, Korea, Germany, the Netherlands, India, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Italy.

Houston's role as a hub for foreign trade and international business "is likely to support the region's economic recovery in the months and years ahead," the partnership noted in May.

"We talk often of Houston as a great global city — one that competes with the likes of London, Tokyo, São Paulo, and Beijing. But that's only possible because of our infrastructure — namely our port — and our connections around the world," Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the partnership, said last month. "Houston's ties abroad remain strong."

Houston shopping center opts for buzzy new environmental project

bee's knees

Bees are glorious creatures, tasked with pollination and the no-big-deal duty of balancing our planet's ecosystem and keeping the circle of life moving. Oh, and the honey!

No surprise, then, that beekeeping is all the buzz. With that in mind, a local outlet center is launching its own honeybee colony on its rooftop. Tanger Outlets Houston is taking off with a new pollinator project, and the public is welcome to join and learn about these precious winged buddies. The project is a partnership with Alvéole, a social beekeeping company.

Expect educational bee workshops for retailers and shoppers, meant to reinforce the benefits of urban beekeeping. Resident beekeeper Evan Donoho Gregory will offer a hands-on, interactive experience designed to get shoppers sweet on honeybees and more connected to their environment, per a press release.

Gregory will also make regular visits to the center to maintain and care for the colonies; enthusiasts can follow along on social media.

A little about the hive: it's set up to allow the bees to pollinate the area's flora and thrive within a three-mile radius. At the height of the season, per press materials, each hive will contain up to 50,000 honeybees. That swarm will include some 90 percent worker bees (females) and 10 percent drones (males). Natch, each hive contains one queen bee. (There can be only one!)

With hope, the industrious honeybees will produce the equivalent of 100 jars of hyperlocal, artisanal honey per urban apiary. Tanger Outlets Houston plans to harvest the honey to share with its neighbors, per a release.

"Sharing the city with our winged neighbors is a simple, natural way to positively impact the environment," said Tanger Outlets marketing director Oliver Runco, in a statement. "We're eager to share the buzzworthy details of upcoming workshops that will educate our shoppers, brands and community on the critical role honeybees play in our ecosystem."

Bee fans can watch the progress, check out photos, videos, and upcoming beekeeper visit dates at MyHive Tanger Outlets Houston. For information on upcoming workshops, visit tangeroutlet.com/Houston and follow along on Facebook and Instagram.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.