Four-year-old Brassica has been acquired. Photo via brassicafin.com

A Houston fintech innovator is celebrating his latest startup's exit.

Brassica Technologies Inc., a fintech infrastructure company that's provides a platform for alternative assets, has been acquired by BitGo, a Palo Alto, California-based tech company with digital asset services. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

"Joining forces with BitGo is a significant step towards Brassica's ultimate vision of building the financial infrastructure of the future," Youngro Lee, founder and CEO of Brassica, says in a news release. "Our strength lies in our 'one stop shop' approach of providing API-enabled infrastructure for the alternative assets industry.

"This sector is rapidly growing and bringing in new investors around the world," Lee continues. "Our technology-focused development, combined with our deep domain expertise in securities and banking laws, uniquely position us in the market, especially for sophisticated clients dealing with the complexities of private securities and digital assets."

Lee founded Brassica in 2020 after his first fintech company, NextSeed, was acquired by Republic. Brassica raised its $8 million seed round led by Houston-based Mercury last year.

The acquisition is a strategic move by BitGo, which was valued at $1.75 billion last year, according to the company after its $100 million raise. Adding Brassica's suite of technology expands on BitGo's ability to grow its customer base.

"We currently have a dichotomy in financial services — one side deals with traditional securities and the other deals with up-and-coming blockchain-based assets and cryptocurrencies," Mike Belshe, CEO of BitGo, says in the release. "With this acquisition, BitGo becomes the first major financial services firm to be able to provide comprehensive infrastructure support for both traditional private securities and blockchain-based assets, while significantly expanding our global presence."

Last year, Lee joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Brassica and his overarching mission of democratizing fintech and investment tools. He explains there hasn't been a seamless solution created for the backend of alternative asset transactions, things like custody of those assets or transferring and keeping track of them.

"The reason why I thought this was what I wanted to focus on next was exactly because it was an issue I struggled with as a founder of NextSeed," Lee says on the show. "The backend was always an issue. There's not one single vendor that we felt really understood our business, was doing it efficiently, or enabled us to deliver those services to our end clients."

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

Houston fintech startup raises $8M seed round led by local VC

fresh funds

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.

With its "investment infrastructure as a service" model, Brassica was co-founded in 2021 by two familiar faces in Houston's fintech scene. CEO Youngro Lee and CTO Bob Dunton were behind NextSeed, a crowdfunding platform that allowed businesses to raise investment funding online. The startup was acquired in 2020 by Republic, where Lee currently serves as executive vice president and head of Asia.

“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.

“Today’s infrastructure solutions for alternative assets are often cobbled together through multiple incompatible vendors in a complex regulatory environment, which often creates unreasonable risk, errors, and single points of failure for market participants," he continues. "We started Brassica to address this fundamental problem and provide solutions to enable innovators in both traditional and web3 industries to build properly within a constantly evolving global regulatory framework.”

Along with the seed round news, the company has announced that Brassica Trust Company, its wholly-owned subsidiary, has received a Trust Charter by the Wyoming State Banking Board.

“The revolution of the private markets is here, and it is clear that the traditional, legacy infrastructure currently in place is not designed for the present and future investment world,” says Blair Garrou, managing director at Mercury Fund, in the release. “Brassica’s API-forward, institutional grade solutions make investing in private and digital assets more trustworthy, compliant, and secure than ever before, further bridging the gap between the worlds of traditional and decentralized finance. Their highly qualified and experienced senior business, legal, and technology executive team makes Brassica well-positioned to usher in this new era of alternative investments. We are proud to support Brassica on their ongoing mission to democratize finance globally.”

The company plans to use the funding to grow its product, engineering, business development, and customer success teams, per the news release, as well as develop a trust operations team in Wyoming. Current leadership includes former execs from Republic, Cleary Gottlieb, Kirkland Ellis, Morgan Stanley, Custodia Bank, LedgerX, Prime Trust, JP Morgan Chase, and M1 Finance.

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

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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.