Lawson Gow, CEO and founder of The Cannon, has officially opened cut the ribbon on the West Houston startup incubation hub. Courtesy of Quy Tran/The Cannon

The coworking and acceleration hub that's been holding down the Houston innovation ecosystem's West Houston presence has officially cut the ribbon and celebrated its grand opening.

Just hours after announcing The Downtown Launch Pad on October 24, The Cannon Houston celebrated the grand opening of its 120,0000-square-foot home at 1334 Brittmoore Road. The party welcomed over 600 innovators, Cannon members, and visitors.

Founder and CEO, Lawson Gow, who is also the son of InnovationMap's parent company's CEO, cut the ribbon on the new building that houses over 250 companies and is nearly sold out for leasing opportunities.

"It's been incredible watching The Cannon come to life since it was a drawing on a whiteboard," says Gow in a news release. "There are far too many people to thank — from the first community members that joined us in The Waiting Room more than 18 months ago, the numerous partners, investors, ecosystem members and resources that have helped us get where we are today, all the way to our new members who patiently waited for the space to open."

Gow's "Waiting Room" building is still in existence adjacent to the new building — the landlord of the property is operating it, but Cannon companies have all moved in to the new facility.

The grand opening event showcased all the startups and entrepreneurs based in The Cannon, plus hosted mental breaks — with free massages and cuddles with dogs — and other activities like poker and pingpong.

One Cannon-based startup, LetsLaunch, even hosted a live pitch event for a few of the companies using its digital investment platform, including: Camppedia, Social Chains, Pill Golf, and Paylight. Since the live pitch last week, LetsLaunch has seen a $21,000 increase of investment online.

While The Cannon team is settled, the organization already has growth and expansion in the works.

"Each person had a major part in getting us where we are today," Gow says. "We knew that Houston was in desperate need of a resource like this and are thankful to be able to build this community and fulfill our mission of supporting Houston's entrepreneurs."

Off with a blast

Courtesy of Quy Tran/The Cannon

The Cannon welcomed in over 600 members, staff, and guests into its new home on Thursday, October 24.

The Cannon's new building is 88 percent leased and ready for move in. Courtesy of The Cannon

Photos: The Cannon unveils its 120,000-square-foot startup hub in West Houston

Homecoming

The Cannon is finally getting to move its 150 startups and partners into its 120,000-square-foot campus in West Houston.

The original plan was to open in March, but construction, which began in April 2018, faced a series of setbacks due to weather. Current grand opening celebration plans are expected to be in September.

The flagship building is just the first step developing the campus, which is dubbed the Founders District.

"Our team has worked tirelessly to build this community over the past eighteen months, and we are incredibly proud to see our vision coming to life with the completion of this building," says The Cannon's CEO Lawson Gow in a news release. "The work isn't over though, and The Cannon will continue to grow our network of resources and locations to cater to the needs of Houston's growing entrepreneurial community." (Gow is the son of David Gow, owner of InnovationMap's parent company Gow Media.)

The building is currently 88 percent leased. Cannon Ventures, the company's investor group, will operate out of the new building, as will Capital Factory's Houston outpost. Austin-based Capital Factory, a statewide startup accelerator announced it would have its Houston operations at The Cannon in May. Since then, the company hired two Houston-based employees to run the programming.

According to the release, The Cannon will continue to grow its community relations for a "full suite" of partners. Houston-based investment fund Work America Capital, which led The Cannon's initial fundraising round, will also be joining The Cannon's community in the new building.

"It has been incredible to watch The Cannon's exceptional growth from inception two years ago to the vibrant community they've built today," says Mark Toon, managing partner of Work America Capital, in the release. "We can't wait to see the progress first-hand as The Cannon continues to establish themselves as a leader in building entrepreneurial communities."

The Cannon previously operated out of a 20,000-square-foot adjacent building called "The Waiting Room," which will be torn down and the space will be used as a part of the bigger Founders District plan.

The Cannon's new space will feature:

  • A 16-TV video wall
  • Outdoor courtyard
  • Movie theater
  • Snacks, coffee, and beer
  • Office needs, such as printers, scanners, and mail services
  • Showers
  • 24/7 accessibility
  • Professional and social events are organized on an ongoing basis for the community
  • Private event hosting for both members and non-members

Spacious setting

Courtesy of The Cannon

The Cannon is currently 88 percent leased.

From credit to crowdfunding, startups have more cash flow options now than ever before. Getty Images

Houston small business finance panel lays out funding options for startups

Follow the money

When it comes to raising money for your startup, there's plenty of fish in the sea, however, navigating the rough waters can be difficult.

Houston Community College put on a Small Business Summit on June 13 and gathered a group of financial professionals to represent several types of funding options, from venture capital to microlending.

Crowdfunding

The crowdfunding game has changed, says Rhian Davies, business development manager for LetsLaunch, an equity-based crowdfunding tool.

While most people think that donation-based crowdfunding — like GoFundMe or Kickstarter that give you the product or thank-you gift when you give — are the only options, that's not the case. And, investing using these platforms doesn't mean anything to you if the company sees success.

"If it makes it big, you're not going to get anything back," says Davies of these types of platforms.

But the JOBS Act in 2012 changed everything. Now, companies fundraising on crowdfunding sites can trade in equity for funds.

"Previously, investments were reserved for wealthy individuals — accredited individuals — who had a certain amount of money could invest in businesses," says Davies. "Equity crowdfunding opened that up."

With crowdfunding, you can also run other types of fundraising efforts at the same time, spreading out your options.

"It allows (the community) to invest in your business and it allows you to pass the hat and have people come on board," Davies says.

The other benefit to using the LetsLaunch platform is the team assists the startups every step of the way, from uploading a digital pitch deck onto the LetsLaunch platform and preparing paperwork to filing with the SEC.

However, one of the major challenges for startups is deciding what their funding goal is. Davies says you do have to hit a certain funding goal to be able to take that cash home, and for LetsLaunch, they look for that figure to be $10,000 minimum. Anything less than that isn't worth it — from both the LetsLaunch and the startup's perspective. The maximum value for equity crowdfunding is capped at just over $1 million — per the SEC.

Venture capital

VC funding is where most people's minds go when it comes to startup funding. And this type of funding is in an evolution phase too, says Remington Tonar, managing director at The Cannon Houston. While traditional VCs want a three-times return in five to seven years, some firms have more on their minds then just the money.

"There's a new phenomenon in venture where a lot of early stage investors and angel investors are looking at social impact investing," Tonar says. "They want to invest in women- or minority-owned businesses or companies that have a sustainability or social impact component to them. For those investors, the return demands are much more flexible."

Not only are they more flexible on returns, but VCs want more hands-on roles at the companies they invest in. Tonar says venture capitalists don't want to give passive capital.

Another way VCs differ from other types of funding is they are looking for something different in the companies they invest in — they want the next big thing.

"What venture capitalists really look for is disruptive business that are creating value in news ways," Tonar says.

And investments can be industry agnostic — VCs aren't reserved to just tech and computing industries.

"Most people would not have thought the hotel industry was a great industry for venture capital until Airbnb came along," says Tonar. "Most people would not have thought that taxis were a great industry for venture capital until Uber came along."

Fundraising through VC firms is a very personal process — they are investing in you, the founder, just as much as they are investing in the company or idea, Tonar says. You can have a horrible credit history or have declared bankrupt in the past, and while they will find that out, it's not a dealbreaker like it would be for a bank or traditional loan process.

"But if the investor feels that the idea has value and can create value and meets their risk profile, they will look at your startup and go through their due diligence process."

Microlending

A new trend in funding options is microlending — a type of loan process that caps out at $50,000. Lisa Riley is Houston market president for LiftFund, one of the largest microlenders in the United States.

Since the amount is smaller, the risk is smaller too. The type of customer LiftFund looks for is the person or company that's been denied by other banks.

"It's not always because of something negative with the customer," Riley says. "There are certain industries where it's very difficult to get finance right now."

Just like the trend in VCs, these types of lenders want to be hands on too to help secure success and a return.

"The last thing we want to be is another monthly obligation or a debt — the noose around someone's neck suffocating their small business," Riley says. "We want to make sure and walk with you and hold your hand as long as you'll hold mine so that when we give you your loan it's the right amount for your business and the right time."

Traditional loans and factoring

Of course, conventional loans is still an option, as is factoring — the process in which a business sells its accounts receivables to a third-party entity, called a factor.

Peter Ellen, senior vice president at Amegy Bank, explains the process as being pretty traditional. His bank wants to see a secure and profitable business on trach for growth.

"Typically, we look for a business that's been established for two years, that has generated a profit, and can show a clear path of repayment," Ellen says.

Again, like other funding options, Ellen says a relationship with the company is important.

"That's really what we look to do, is to form a relationship at an early stage with a company, really understand what they do, and help assist in the growth and success of their company," he says.

SBA loans

SBA loans are another lending option for startups to consider, Aziz Rahim, senior vice president at Wallis Bank, explains.

Different from a traditional loan process, SBA loans are guaranteed by the Small Business Association up to 85 percent, which lowers the risk for then lending partner.

Other benefits to SBA loans are lower down payments, generous term lengths, and caps on interest rates.

"The good thing about SBA loans compared to conventional loans is SBA loans do not balloon," Rahim says.

LetsLaunch, a Houston-based fundraising platform, has teamed up with The Cannon. Courtesy of LetsLaunch

Houston fintech startup partners with local coworking space to grow investment opportunities

Funding friends

A Houston fintech software company has joined forces with The Cannon to help connect its members to capital. LetsLaunch, a platform that allows for smaller investments from non-accredited investors, and The Cannon — along with its venture arm, Cannon Ventures — have officially entered a partnership as of this month.

"We're basically providing a transactional tool to allow Cannon Ventures to access more members who, legally, they couldn't access before," says Nick Carnrite, co-founder and CEO of LetsLaunch. "For us, it's a good thing because instead of having to go out and create a community of startups and investors, that gets brought to us."

The partnership will allow for The Cannon's members to have access to the platform, and LetsLaunch can piggyback off the Cannon's existing network and programming. For instance, if The Cannon hosts a pitch night, LetsLaunch could enable live investing so that anyone in the crowd could invest that night.

Additionally, companies backed by Cannon Ventures can easily do a dual raise — one side open to accredited investors writing big checks and the other on LetsLaunch open to anyone. For this setup, LetsLaunch investors get the perk of having the company vetted by the Cannon Ventures investors.

"[The partnership] allows us to further the vision of Cannon Ventures, which is to truly democratize angel investing," says Lawson Gow, founder and CEO of The Cannon and Cannon Ventures. "We want to activate and allow anyone who is interested in making investments of any size and in any way." (Gow is the son of the CEO of InnovationMap's parent company.)

LetsLaunch opened for business at the end of last year. The site works, in many ways, like a crowdfunding site, only investors receive equity for their money. Due to regulations, investment campaigns max out at around a million dollars, and how much one can invest depends on their annual income. For LetsLaunch's demographic, most users can invest up to $20,000 a year, Carnrite says. There is a minimum of a $250 investment per transaction, but Carnrite says he expects the average investment to be closer to $1,000 per transaction.

According to Carnrite, LetsLaunch is solving the exclusivity problem that traditional investing creates. Such a small pool of people can invest in companies for equity.

"There's something like 30 million people globally that have a $1 million net worth, which is the definition of being an accredited investor," Carnrite says. "Thirty million people out of 7.7 billion, so it's a little less than half a percentage."

And, according to Gow, this is a huge problem in Houston for companies who don't have access to funding.

"We had a company leave The Cannon last week and move to New York because they couldn't get funding in Houston," Gow says. "We're still losing battles every day — and one of the main reasons is getting early stage funding in companies."

The Cannon hosted a B2B pitch night, and all three companies have a mission to change the world. Courtesy of The Cannon

3 Houston entrepreneurs changing the world with their B2B startups

On purpose

I think it's safe to say that most B2B startups don't have sustainability or a mission-driven purpose at the core of their business model. In fact, it's probably safe to say that about any for-profit company of any size.

Three Houston entrepreneurs pitched their companies at The Cannon's recent B2B pitch night, and they all have something in common: They're not normal B2B startups. Each company has a mission to change the way we're doing something — from hiring to construction — in a way that's better for the world.

Natalie Goodman, founder and CEO IncentiFind

Courtesy of IncentiFind

Natalie Goodman realized there was a disconnect between builders and green incentives the government provides.

"The government is strapped — they have all this money that they want to give away, but not the (marketing) money to get the word out," Goodman told InnovationMap last month. "That's where IncentiFind stepped in."

IncentiFind is a portal for green incentives and works in three steps. First, you do a search for green incentives in your area — this part is completely free to the commercial developer or home owner. Next, the user might opt to pay IncentiFind to find the exact incentives for the project and submits the applications for the project. The final step is a promise of a 10 times return on investment.

A million green projects are completed in the United States each year, and IncentiFind is getting in front of that by forming partnerships with lenders, commercial developers, architects, etc., Goodman says to the crowd. Read more about IncentiFind here.

Jeff Miller, CEO of Potentia

Courtesy of The Cannon

The facts and figures are pretty startling. One-in-40 school-age children are on the autism spectrum and one-in-five college-educated autistic individuals don't have a job when they graduate, Jeff Miller says during his pitch at The Cannon. Miller, who has a long career in staffing around the world, founded his company Potentia to help correct this growing employment problem.

"We're seeking to help employers build their 21st century workforce at the intersection of technology, leadership, and, most specifically, the autism spectrum," he says.

Potentia is a technology-focused recruitment firm with resources and opportunities for applicants on the Autism spectrum. For Miller, it's personal. His 16-year-old son has autism, and Miller wants a world where his son can have access to employment opportunities around the world.

"I think we're in a position to improve this model here in Houston, and take it to other cities," Miller says. "The reality is this is a challenge that exists in every major city."

Kim Raath, co-founder of Topl

Courtesy of Topl

Sure, blockchain is a major buzzword nowadays, but for Topl co-founder Kim Raath it means having the ability to track the sustainability of a purchase. Topl's technology is able to tell you if your diamond ring came from a war-torn country or if your coffee's farmer was paid fairly.

Raath says she's seen an increased need for sustainable and transparent businesses that can prove their impact, but it's expensive to do that.

"These businesses are spending so much money on trying to prove this impact," Raath says in her pitch at The Cannon. "We have customers spending close to 15 percent in operational expenses just to be able to trace their growth."

The company, founded by three Rice University students, is growing. In May, Raath says they have four new ventures being developed, and by 2020, they want to have 24 live ventures with a monthly revenue of over $30,000.

"At Topl, we are really going to change the world," Raath tells the crowd. "But I can prove it to you." Read more about Topl here.

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Greentown Labs hires former Houston sustainability exec

new hire

The country's largest climatetech startup incubator has made a strategic new hire.

Lara Cottingham is the new chief of staff for Greentown Labs, a Boston-area company that opened in Houston earlier this year. Cottingham previously served as the city of Houston's chief sustainability officer and the chief of staff for the city's Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department for the past seven years. In her new role, Cottingham will oversee the day-to-day operations and communications for Greentown's CEO Emily Reichert, along with key stakeholder engagements and strategic initiatives for the incubator.

"Lara brings a tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience to our team from her dynamic leadership role at the City of Houston," says Reichert in a news release. "Her breadth of knowledge in sustainability, climate, and the energy transition, and her expertise in regulatory and stakeholder aspects of the energy industry, will be incredibly valuable to our team and community."

Under her leadership at the city of Houston, Cottingham was the chief author of Houston's Climate Action Plan, an initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Houston, and getting the city to a point where it meets the Paris Agreement goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Cottingham helped the city move to 100 percent renewable electricity, according to the release, and helped turn a 240-acre landfill into the nation's largest urban solar farm.

"In leading the Climate Action Plan, Lara helped spark Houston's leadership in what has become a global energy transition and was a passionate advocate for climate action in Houston," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "While she will be missed, this new role will only strengthen our partnership with Greentown. I look forward to working with Emily, Lara, and the Greentown team to meet our climate goals and make Houston the energy capital of the future."

Before her work at the city, Cottingham worked at Hill+Knowlton Strategies' Houston office range of clients across the energy sector. Earlier in her career, she served as communications director for two congressmen in the U.S. House of Representatives. She began her work with the city in 2014.

"In working with Mayor Turner and Climate Mayors across the U.S., I saw how important partnerships are to helping cities decarbonize," says Cottingham in the release. "There is no better partner or place for climate action at work than Greentown Labs. Greentown is 100 percent committed to attracting and nurturing the energy companies of the future and making Houston the energy transition capital of the world. I'm excited to join the team and see how climatetech can help cities reach their climate goals."

Greentown Labs first announced its entrance into the Houston market last summer. The new 40,000-square-foot facility in Midtown across the street from The Ion opened its prototyping and wet lab space, offices, and community gathering areas for about 50 startup companies opened in April. Greentown was founded in 2011 in Somerville, Massachusetts, and has supported more than 400 startups, which have raised more than $1.5 billion in funding.

Houston edtech nonprofit grows its technology with $440K grant from Kinder Foundation

student-focused

As the learning landscape shifted from in-person to virtual, the ability to provide students with necessary support systems and resources became compromised. However, one Houston edtech company worked hard to close that gap.

ProUnitas, a Houston-based nonprofit, partnered with Thoughtworks, a global technology consultancy, to expand its PurpleSENSE platform to mobile. This partnership was ensured through significant private investment, including a one-time gift of $440,000 from the Kinder Foundation.

ProUnitas promises that this expansion will allow student support teams to take the power of PurpleSENSE with them on the go for easier, real-time response using the new PurpleSENSE mobile app.

"A mobile version of PurpleSENSE will empower student support teams to work more rapidly, efficiently and effectively towards their mission and goals," Chris Murphy, CEO of Thoughtworks North America, says in a news release.

Committed to ensuring that no students fall through the cracks, ProUnitas' purpose is focused on providing all students, including those most impoverished, with support services such as food assistance programs, mental health counseling, and after-school clubs.

"Every day many of our students carry the burden of poverty on their shoulders to school, and despite the availability of services, schools do not have the technology infrastructure necessary to connect students to resources in a coordinated way. We want to change this reality," says Adeeb Barqawi, president and CEO of ProUnitas, says in the release.

Engaged in similar work, the Kinder Foundation was a natural partner.

"The Kinder Foundation believes that children cannot succeed if they are juggling significant personal challenges," says Nancy Kinder, president and CEO of the Kinder Foundation, in the release. "As a result of the pandemic, we are seeing mental health and the impact of stress with fresh eyes. Now is the time to support our children and help them thrive and learn. We are proud to help elevate the work of ProUnitas to reach more schools and more students in this critical time of need."

In a press release, ProUnitas states that through these new mobile capabilities, up to 60 percent of administrative work in providing social service options is eliminated. It also shortens the response time for a student to be identified and receive services by 90 percent.

The expansion of PurpleSENSE to mobile is a critical step for ProUnitas to effectively support more schools and students.

Renewables are Houston's next chapter, says this expert

guest column

Houston has long been known as an innovative city — from medicine to technology to creative cuisines (see Viet-Cajun). I am always proud to see how cultures, education, and change come together to build the fabric of our city. As we look forward to a new future, we need to look no further than one of our strongest industries: energy. As many before me, I've sat down to ask: What does that next chapter look like for Houston?

Renewable energy has rapidly grown in Texas and across the country. Emerging technology has furthered this innovation, bringing wind and solar projects that are more powerful and reliable online from the Panhandle to deep in the Rio Grande Valley. As these new projects come online, aging wind facilities built in the early 2000s are beginning to be revitalized, gleaming bright white with newer, longer blades. And, similar to cleaning out your closet of old clothes, the current blades have to go somewhere. Where others see a problem, we saw an opportunity: We've made a business out of recycling them.

At Everpoint, we are demolishing and removing blades all across the US, with projects in North Dakota, Colorado, and even here in another Texas city, Sweetwater. In this rural Texas town, wind investment took Nolan County market value from $607 million in 1998 to $3.2 billion as development peaked in 2009. This growth enabled the school districts, county, and hospital district to expand and upgrade their facilities. As a trailblazer in the industry, we worked closely with the Sweetwater team to handle a smooth transition, allowing their community to look forward to a breezier future.

The industry is quickly innovating to meet the demands of Texas' future, and new opportunities are forming every day, something we're proud to be a part of, especially as a veteran-owned company. We are driven to make the future of energy more transparent and traceable, that's why we partner with firms like Media Sorcery which uses sensors and an ESG based blockchain built by another Houston firm, Topl, to maintain full accountability throughout the decommissioning process.

Beyond our company, the renewable energy industry employs veterans at a higher rate than the national average, with more than 11,000 in the wind industry alone. As a veteran myself it only made since to team with another veteran founded company to pursue this opportunity. I appreciate meeting fellow veterans every day that are applying the skills they learned in the military: a technical knowledge base, teamwork, and discipline.

Across Texas, renewable energy is powering 40,200 well-paying careers that I know are building toward a better, brighter Houston. It's in our blood to continue the Texas legacy of welcoming energy industries, like wind and solar, into our state. I believe in an all-energy approach to the energy transition. Renewable energy is about more than hearts and minds, it's about dollars and cents.

In honor of that, we are celebrating American Clean Power Week this week, October 25-29, and we hope you will join us. Not to celebrate one industry, but to embrace an all of the above, made in Texas energy future — a future that I know we can all be proud of, and where Houston will be the Energy Capital of the Future.

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Kevin Doffing is the chief commercial officer of Everpoint Services.