It's not been the easiest year to raise funding, but Houston startup founders managed to secure over $160 million in VC or grant funding last quarter. Photo via Getty Images

The second quarter of 2023 looked a lot like the first when it came to venture capital funding for Houston companies. The whole country — affected by inflation, geopolitical instability, and other factors — has seen a trying time for investment opportunities.

Houston's performance is far from unique. Globally, VC funding is down — a reported 18 percent from Q1 to Q2, per Crunchbase. Year over year, that's a 49 percent decrease from 2022's Q2.

According to InnovationMap reporting, 10 Houston-based, Houston-founded, or soon-to-be Houston-headquartered companies announced VC or grant funding between April and June. Here's a roundup of these second quarter deals — click on each story to read more.


Houston-founded e-commerce unicorn Cart.com raises $60M series C 

Cart.com has secured its unicorn status at a $1.2B valuation with latest round of venture capital funding. Image via Cart.com

A Houston-founded software company — officially a unicorn company, valued at $1 billion or more — has announced the details of its latest fundraise.

Cart.com, which provides a suite of software solutions for commerce and logistics enablement, closed its $60 million series C equity funding round with a $1.2 billion valuation. Investors in the round included B. Riley Venture Capital, Kingfisher Investment Advisors, Snowflake Ventures, Prosperity7 Ventures, Legacy Knight, and more.

According to a news announcement from the company, Cart.com will use the funding for international expansion, continued product development, and to meet increased client demand. Continue reading.

Houston e-commerce company P97 Networks  raises another $40M round to support growth

P97 Networks has again raised $40 million to support its growth. Photo via Getty Images

For the second time in just over a year, a Houston business that provides mobile commerce and digital marketing to the mobility and fuel industries has raised $40 million.

P97 Networks, which has developed a cloud-based mobile commerce platform that helps brands securely do business with customers, announced that it has closed its series C round at $40 million. The equity financing round was led by Portage and included participation from existing investors. The fresh funding will go to support growth strategy.

"In this highly connected world, retail brands are looking for new ways to increase consumer engagement — the power of network effects in the digital world will be a key contributor to revenue growth and margins," says Donald Frieden, CEO of P97 Networks, in a news release. "With consumers of all ages further adopting mobile payment solutions, we are proud to have built the leading connected commerce and digital marketing platform for the convenience retail, energy marketing, and transportation industry." Continue reading.

Podcast: Houston home tech startup SmartAC.com raises $22M to grow sales

Josh Teekell, founder and CEO of SmartAC.com, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the latest from his company, which just closed its series B. Photo courtesy

A Houston startup that combines unique sensor technology with software analysis has raised its next round of funding to — according to Founder and CEO Josh Teekell — turbocharge its sales.

SmartAC.com launched in 2020, emerging from stealth with $10 million raised in a series A. Over the past almost three years, the company has firmed up its hardware, developed its software, and pivoted slightly from selling directly to consumers to adopting a B2B approach.

Now, Teekell says he's focused on turbocharging sales to these contractors, and he's going to do that with the funding raised in the series B round that closed this month. He says the company will also grow its team that goes out to deploy the technology and train the contractors on the platform.

"This funding really buys us a couple years of runway through the end of next year and allows us to focus on getting to cash flow breakeven, which is right around our wheelhouse of our abilities here in the next 12 months," Teekell says. "In general, we've accomplished everything we'd be able to accomplish on the hardware side, and now it's just about deployment."

The $22 million SmartAC.com has raised came from local investors. Teekell, who hasn't announced the full list of the round's investors, explains that while traditionally startups might have more opportunity on the coasts for raising money, it's not hard to sell Houstonians on the benefits of SmartAC.com's optimized air conditioning. Continue reading.

Houston fintech startup Brassica raises $8M seed round led by Mercury

A Houston fintech startup is aiming to modernize banking and investing — and has received fresh funding to do it. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston startup has raised millions for its fintech platform — and the company didn't have to go very far to find its lead investor.

Brassica Technologies Inc. closed its seed round at $8 million with Houston-based Mercury Fund leading the round. Valor Equity Partners, Long Journey Ventures, NGC Fund, Neowiz, Broadhaven Ventures, Armyn Capital, VC3DAO, Alpha Asset Management (Korea), and other global FinTech investors participated in the round as well.

The startup's platform has "institutional-grade solutions for the new era of private investing and alternative assets," per the release. Serving the alternative assets industry, Brassica's tools can easily integrate with any operating system to provide proprietary technology and unique regulatory licenses. The technology aims to modernize key banking and investing infrastructure to help enterprises safely grow their business and protect their customer assets. Continue reading.

Houston immunotherapy company 7 Hills Pharma to use $13.5M CPRIT grant to further develop cancer treatments

7 Hills Pharma, an innovative immunotherapy company, was awarded a $13.5 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. Photo via Getty Images

Between Bangalore and Chennai in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, you’ll find the town of Tirupati. It’s home to seven peaks that host a Hindu temple complex devoted to a form of Vishnu, Venkateshvara. It is also the region from which Upendra Marathi originally hails. It’s where his father, and many other family members, attended medical school.

“My father’s first job was to take care of the pilgrims,” recalls Marathi.

It's only natural that his groundbreaking Houston company would be named 7 Hills Pharma.

“That sort of selflessness and giving back, I wanted to embody it in the name of the company,” Marathi says.

Now, 7 Hills Pharma is announcing that last month, it was awarded a $13.5 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). That’s on top of more than $13 million in NIH grants, making the company the second largest recipient of SBIR/STTR grants in Texas. Continue reading.

Seattle biotech co. OncoResponse to move to Houston thanks to $13.3M grant from CPRIT

OncoResponse in partnership with MD Anderson Cancer Center received a portion of $73 million the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has doled out this spring. Photo via oncoresponse.com

A biotech company has landed a more than $13 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

The nearly $13.3 million grant given to OncoResponse — which is relocating from Seattle to Houston, according to CPRIT's news release — will help the company develop fully human monoclonal antibodies for treatment of cancer that otherwise would not respond to immunotherapy. OncoResponse already has a partnership with MD Anderson Cancer Center, which is one of the company’s investors.

“We are thrilled to receive this recognition from CPRIT in supporting the potential of our immunotherapy candidate OR502. We greatly appreciate the additional support from our investors as we continue to make significant progress with our drug development efforts advancing immunotherapies derived from clues of Elite Responders,” says Clifford Stocks, CEO of OncoResponse, in a news release. Continue reading.

Houston biotech startup CellChorus secures $2.3M SBIR grant

CellChorus, a biotech startup operating out of the University of Houston Technology Bridge, has secured fresh funding. Photo via Getty Images

They say it’s all in the timing. For CellChorus, it’s all in the TIMING. That’s Time-lapse Imaging Microscopy In Nanowell Grids. TIMING is a visual AI program that evaluates cell activation, killing and movement, which allows scientists to better understand how cells function.

The technology is important to the development of novel therapies in the realms of oncology, infectious diseases, and countless other disorders and diseases. By allowing scientists to observe those maladies at their roots, it will enable them to create, and ultimately deliver new medications and other therapies faster, at lower cost, and with a higher success rate.

CellChorus is a spinoff of the Single Cell Lab at the University of Houston. Part of UH’s Technology Bridge, CEO Daniel Meyer connected with co-founder and leader of Single Cell Lab, Navin Varadarajan, through co-founder Laurence Cooper.

“The company had been established, but there were limited operations,” recalls Meyer during a phone call with InnovationMap.

That was the fall of 2020. Now, the team has just announced a $2.3 million SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) Fast-Track grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Continue reading.

Health tech startup Rosarium Health raises $1.7M, plans Houston HQ

Rosarium Health, a member of the Texas Medical Center's 2023 Accelerator for HealthTech cohort, has raised pre-seed funding. Photo courtesy of TMC

A health tech startup that just collected $1.7 million in pre-seed funding aims to eventually plant its headquarters in Houston.

The startup, Rosarium Health, currently has no headquarters; its 10 employees work remotely from various locations. However, co-founder and CEO Cameron Carter — who lives in the Denver area — says the company is eyeing a future headquarters in Houston.

“We believe Houston is the best city to launch a health care startup, given the Texas Medical Center, diverse talent across health and technology, affordable living, and a city with supportive and progressive communities,” Carter tells InnovationMap. “We feel Houston offers meaningful attributes that can enable a high-growth startup to succeed and for its employees to feel safe.” Continue reading.

Houston-based workforce solutions platform Innovapptive closes series B round

A Houston SaaS company has announced a fresh round of funding. Photo via Innovapptive.com

A Houston software-as-a-service company has closed an undisclosed amount of funding in a series B round.

Innovapptive Inc., which has its global headquarters in Greenway Plaza, has announced it's closed a series B investment round led by Austin-based Vista Equity Partners with support from existing investor Tiger Global Management. The fresh funding will be deployed to "accelerate product innovation and reach new regional markets," according to the company.

“We look forward to this next phase of growth as we continue to define the emerging connected worker software category,” says Sundeep Ravande, founder and CEO of Innovapptive, in the news release. “Vista has significant experience scaling enterprise software businesses and emerging technologies." Continue reading.

Venus Aerospace, a Houston startup with hypersonic engine tech, adds new investor

This Houston company is one step closer to enabling high-speed global travel. Photo courtesy of Venus Aerospace

A Houston-based company that's developing an engine that'll enable one-hour global transportation has announced its latest investor.

Venus Aerospace released the news that Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Airbus Ventures, has joined its team of investors. The supersonic combustion engine technology — more akin to a rocket's engine than an airplane's — is revolutionary because allows for travel at a higher elevation. Jet engines rely on air outside of the aircraft to combust, and rocket engines work with a system that supplies air internally.

“Venus has developed the world’s first liquid-propellant rotating detonation rocket engine (RDRE) with a double-digit percentage increase in efficiency over standard regular engines, making the hypersonic economy possible,” says Sassie Duggleby, CEO and co-founder of Venus, in a news release. “We’re delighted to bring Airbus Ventures into the Venus family and look forward to growing our collaboration as we harness the future of hypersonic flight.” Continue reading.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby of Venus Aerospace, Youngro Lee of Brassica, and Le Dam of myAvos. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

WHO'S WHO

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

Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, CEO and co-founder of Venus Aerospace

Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby of Venus Aerospace joins the Houston Innovators Podcast this week. Photo courtesy of Venus

Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby and her husband were living in Japan and considering a trip back to Texas and wishing there was a faster option than a full day of international travel — with their kids, no less. That's when Andrew Duggleby told Sassie that there actually might be an engine that could do that.

Flash forward a few years, and the husband-wife team has built a company around that idea. Venus Aerospace, originally founded in California, relocated to Houston in 2021 to establish their company in an ecosystem with the tools to advance their tech — and give their employees a good work-life balance, Sassie Duggleby explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"We knew we had to find a location where we could test our engine and still be home for dinner," she says on the show. "Our company vision is 'home for dinner.' We want to fly you across the globe and have you home for dinner. And, if you work for us, we want you home for dinner." Read more.

Youngro Lee has announced funding for his latest fintech endeavor. Photo courtesy

Youngro Lee is no stranger to shaking up the finance world with a new tech-based way of doing business. One of the founders of NextSeed, Lee's newest mission is providing "investment infrastructure as a service" with his company, Brassica, which just raised $8 million in seed funding.

“The future of finance will depend on the ability of trustworthy institutions to provide secure and seamless transitions between traditional financial services and web3 innovations while complying with strict regulations and still providing great customer experience,” says Lee in the news release.

Houston-based Mercury Fund led the round with several other investors participating. Read more.

Le Dam, CEO and founder of OptiChroniX

Le Dam moved from California to Houston to build her company. Photo via LinkedIn

After years on the West Coast, Le Dam has returned to her adopted hometown of Houston — just in time to launch a new app dedicated to providing health resources and information to its users.

“I always knew that I wanted to build my business in Houston,” Dam says, mentioning the assets of the world’s largest medical center, a thriving startup community, and diverse population for whom she wants to build her technology.

myAvos pairs with a user’s smart watch and harnesses their health information such as physical activity and hours slept. The user can also input additional information such as blood test results and meals eaten. The app analyzes the information provided and assesses the user’s risk for chronic illness later in life. Read more.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

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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.