If you feel like it's hard to find venture capitalists in Houston, you wouldn't be wrong, according to this Houston investor. Photo via Getty Images

As a venture capitalist and former startup founder living in Houston, I get asked a lot about the best way to find and connect with a venture capitalist in Houston. My usual advice is to start with a list, and reach out to everyone on that list. But no one has a comprehensive list. In fact, VCs are such a quiet bunch that I’ve yet to meet someone who personally knows everyone on this proverbial list.

So, I got together with a couple of VC friends of mine, and we put together our own Houston venture capitalist list.

There are, by our count, 11 active venture capital funds headquartered in Houston of any size and type, and outside of corporate venture capital and angel investors, there are 30 total venture capitalists running funds.

Houston has always been quite thin on the VC fund front. I’ve jokingly introduced myself for a while as “one of the 13 venture capitalists in Houston.”

Let’s put this scale in some brutal perspective. With 7.2 million people in the Greater Houston Metro Area, the odds of finding a partner level active venture capitalist in Houston is about 1 in 240,000, if you take a most expanded definition of venture capitalist that might come down to 1 in 100,000. We’re the fifth largest metropolitan area in the country with a tremendous economic engine; there is a ton of capital in Houston, but it’s residing in things like institutional fixed income and equities, real estate, wealth management, corporate, private equity, family office, energy and infrastructure Basically, mostly everywhere but in venture capital funds for tech startups.

By comparison, there are almost as many Fortune 500 CEOs in Houston — 24, by our count — as venture capitalists and fewer venture capitalists than Fortune 1000 CEOs, of which there are 43. That means running into a VC in the checkout line at HEB is about as rare as running into the CEO of CenterPoint, ConocoPhillips, or Academy. In fact, as there are 115 cities in the Greater Houston area, you are three times more likely to be a mayor in Greater Houston Area than a partner at an investor at a VC firm, and more likely to be a college or university president. While we’re at it, you’re 400 times more likely to be a lawyer, 250 times more likely to be a CPA, and over 650 times more likely to be a medical doctor.

Our 30 venture capitalists in the Greater Houston Area are spread across 20 firms and all major venture sectors and stages. Venture capitalist is defined for this list as a full time managing director or partner-level investment professional actively running a venture capital fund with limited partners, currently investing in new venture capital deals from their fund from seed to growth stage, and residing in the Greater Houston Metro area.

To get to 31 we added in a couple of people running venture set asides for PE funds, and a number who work from Houston for funds with no office here. We excluded CVCs, as the decision making is more corporate than individual and rarely includes the committed fund and carried interest structure that defines venture capital, and excluded professionals at angel networks, accelerators, and seed funds that provide investment, but don’t manage conventional venture capital funds, as well as PE funds that do the occasional venture deal. We might be able to triple the number if we include venture capitalists at any professional level, and add in those professionals at PE and angel and seed funds, and corporate venture capital teams who are actively investing. But we’ll get to those other sources of funding in the next list.

The 11 venture capital funds headquartered in Houston are: Mercury, Energy Transition Ventures (my fund), Montrose Lane (formerly called Cottonwood), Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, Artemis, New Climate Ventures, Fitz Gate Ventures, Curate Capital, Knightsgate Ventures, Amplo Ventures,and First Bight Ventures.

Another half a dozen firms have a partner level venture capital investor here, but are headquartered elsewhere: Energy Innovation Capital, Decarbonization Partners, 1984 Ventures, Altitude Ventures, Ascension Ventures, Moneta Ventures, and MKB & Co. Two others, CSL Ventures and SCF Partners, are local private equity funds with a venture capital partner in Houston and a dedicated allocation from a PE fund.

Culling these for partner or managing director level currently in Houston, in alphabetical order by first name, LinkedIn profile and all.

We may have missed a couple of VCs hiding in plain sight, as venture capital is a pretty dynamic business.

VCs are just rare. And yes, perhaps more rare in Houston than in California. Something less than 1 in 100 VCs in the country live in Houston. Across the US there are somewhere around 1,000 to 2,000 active venture capital firms, and maybe another 1,000 to 2,000 active US based CVCs — so, plus or minus maybe at most 4,000 to 5,000 currently active partner level venture capitalists in the country excluding CVC professionals (active VCs and VC funds are really hard to count).

Perhaps in the most stunning statistic, the 7,386 elected state legislators in the US today outnumber the total number of American venture capitalists. Luckily for startup founders, the venture capitalists are more likely to return your phone call.

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Neal Dikeman is a venture capitalist and seven-time startup co-founder investing out of Energy Transition Ventures. He’s currently hosting the Venture Capital for First Time Founders Series at the Ion, where ETV is headquartered.

Samantha Ettus of Park Place Payments joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how she founded a company that lets individuals find financial independence while providing better customer service in the payments processing industry. Photo courtesy of Park Place Payments

Houston VC-backed tech founder on reinventing a sales team and supporting financial independence

Houston innovators podcast episode 112

Four years ago, Samantha Ettus found herself as a keynote speaker in a room with thousands of ambitious and talented women. It was a conference for multi-level marketing sales associates and, as Ettus found out later, most of them — despite their talent and passion — were losing money on whatever product they were selling.

"I realized there was a problem. There obviously was a need — all of these people want to be doing something outside of their families that gives them fulfillment and meaning and has goals associated with it — but they also want to be earning money," Ettus says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "And the first part was being fulfilled — but the second part wasn't."

Ettus created an alternative to check both of those boxes. Park Place Payments is a fintech startup founded in 2018 in California. Houston was one of the initial six test market for the business model, and the company now has over 1,000 account executives across all 50 states. Sales team members are trained for free on how to sell Park Place's payment processor service to local businesses.

Ettus says the payment processor industry is competitive and most small business owners are very disappointed with the customer service they receive. The average business changes payment processors every three years, Ettus says, and Park Place wants to change that.

"Payments is an industry where something always goes wrong," Ettus says. "As a small business owner, if you can't reach someone — that's really important for the livelihood of your business. ... We really think of ourselves as an outsourced payment partner for small businesses."

This past year has been one for growth for Park Place, Ettus says, and earlier this year, she closed on the company's seed round, which was supported by Curate Capital, founded by Houstonian Carrie Colbert. Now the company is focused on its tech team, including hiring a CTO. Early next year, Ettus hopes to close a Series A round, again with support — financially and otherwise — from Colbert.

"I feel so lucky because a lot of people pointed us to traditional Silicon Valley VCs in the beginning, and I had a lot of conversations. I didn't feel some of those firms had the patience to grow with us," Ettus says.

The company has been tied to Houston from its early days, from testing the business in town to a Houston-based early hire, Nancy Decker Lent, who is a founding member of the team and head of product for Park Place.

Ettus shares more on her passion for supporting financial independence for women and how she plans to grow her company on the podcast. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

Curate Capital has announced its latest portfolio company. Photo courtesy of Curate Capital

Local investor leads $5M funding round of sustainability-focused tech company founded by Houston native

to the market

A Houston investor has led the latest funding round for a New York-based tech company focused on democratizing access to the global supply chain through its turn key solution for ethical manufacturing.

Curate Capital, a fund focused on early-stage, female-founded companies, led TO THE MARKET's $5 million series A round, the firms announced this week. TO THE MARKET has created a technology platform that provides makers from around the world with the opportunity of fair pay, safe work, and economic empowerment. After several years of growth, the company now represents a syndicated supply chain of over 200 makers in more than 50 countries.

"We are honored to join forces with TO THE MARKET to amplify further their work powering the ethical supply chain," says Carrie Colbert, Curate Capital founding and general partner, in a news release. "At Curate Capital, we are industry-agnostic, but rather look across industry boundaries to identify the very best companies being built by women for the benefit of other women. Making an investment in the ESG space has been a high priority for us, and no one is better suited to build a successful company in this realm than Jane Mosbacher Morris. She is uniquely suited and qualified to transform retail manufacturing."

Several other investors supported the round, including Working Capital Fund, Spouting Rock, Forward Ventures, Belle Fund, Knightsgate Ventures, and a number of angel investors.

Mosbacher Morris, who originally started her career in the state department in counterterrorism, founded the company in 2016. She's a Houston native and still has family locally.

"I am thrilled that Curate Capital is leading the round because of their deep expertise in scaling women-focused businesses," says Mosbacher Morris in the release. "Women are the majority of garment workers, the majority of buyers at retail organizations, and the majority of consumers. But typically they are not the factory owners, the company CEOs, or the investors on the cap table. It's great to be a part of changing that dynamic."

The company will use the funds to support its growth. Last year, Mosbacher Morris was named one of 2020's Heroes Of The Pandemic for TO THE MARKET's swift pivot to manufacturing PPE for healthcare workers, according to the release.

Curate Capital was founded in 2020 by Colbert and Mark Latham. The firm, and its initial $10 million fund, is focused on funding early-stage, female-founded companies. The company also recently announced an investment in Houston startup Ampersand's pre-seed round.

Colbert recently joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss her fund. Listen to the episode below.


Ampersand and Curate Capital are working together to move the needle on the future of work. Photo courtesy of Curate Capital

Houston startup raises $1.75M round with support from local female-focused investor

future of work

A Houston-based startup focused on upskilling young professionals has closed its latest round of funding with support from a local investor.

Ampersand Professionals Inc. raised $1.75 million in pre-seed funding led by Curate Capital, a Houston-based, female-focused venture capital fund. Carrie Colbert, Curate's founding and general partner, will join Ampersand's advisory board.

Ampersand — founded in 2020 by Allie Danziger with Co-Founders Kathrin Applebaum and Scott Greenberg — has developed a platform for businesses to easily implement internship programs. The program also upskills and educates young professionals, providing them career development and job skills training.

"Ampersand's mission to democratize access to career-building opportunities for young professionals, ties in nicely with Curate's mission to empower women, says Colbert in a news release. "The company's platform will have a direct positive impact on young women (and others) as they begin their professional careers."

Both the female founders are personally driven by motivating and inspiring women and driving future of work solutions. The fresh funding will go toward expanding the Ampersand platform and network.

"The shift to remote work during the pandemic not only completely changed the way we all work, but also made it even more difficult for so many recent, and soon-to-be graduates, to make the connections needed to land their first internship and then gain the meaningful training to excel in those roles," says Danziger in the release. "This infusion of capital allows Ampersand to expand our e-learning platform, matching algorithm capabilities, ensure our training matches the needs of our business partners, and expand our university partnerships around the country."

Since September 2020, the Ampersand team has developed its training and career development platform with over 100 hours of job skills training content, according to the release, and has placed over 200 driven professionals in remote internships. (InnovationMap has been a business partner in Ampersand's program.)

Curate Capital was founded in 2020 by Carrie Colbert and Mark Latham. The firm, and its initial $10 million fund, is focused on funding early-stage, female-founded companies.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Daniel Powell of Spark Biomedical, Carrie Colbert of Curate Capital, and Carson Hager of SafeFun. Courtesy photos

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 — venture capital, medical devices, and software — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Daniel Powell, CEO of Spark Biomedical

A new medical device created in Houston is revolutionizing opioid withdrawal treatment. Photo via sparkbiomedical.com

Houston-based Spark Biomedical has created an opioid withdrawal treatment device known as the Sparrow Therapy System. It's worn over the ear and sends mild electrical signals to trigger cranial nerves that release endorphins that the body has stopped producing on its own during opioid use. These endorphins help the user to make clearer, more logical decisions as they come off of the drug.

"If you ask 100 people who've gone through opioid withdrawal, I would bet 99 of them will tell you they thought they were going to die," Spark BioMed CEO Daniel Powell says. "Giving them the ability to manage that is huge. It's the first step towards addiction recovery. It's not solving the addiction, but it is an absolute barrier to move forward."

Carrie Colbert, general partner at Curate Capital

Carrie Colbert saw an opportunity is funding female-founded companies, and she's taking it. Photo courtesy of Curate Capital

Carrie Colbert has gone from energy executive to fashion and lifestyle content creation to her latest venture — venture investment. With her multifaceted career, she's grown her network across industries and platforms and now some of her followers have become Curate Capital's limited partners.

"Instagram turned out to be one of the best networking tools for me," Colbert says. "You can connect with people wherever they are and wherever you are." Read more.

Carson Hager, president at SafeFun

A Houston entrepreneur created a free smartphone app to easily track and share COVID-19 testing results. Photo courtesy of SafeFun

Last year, Carson Hager felt helpless as he saw Houston restaurants and bars being shut down amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I was thinking what's it going to take for people to be able to feel comfortable to go back out again and go out to bars and restaurants, gyms, salons, club, etcetera," he says.

In April 2020, he decided to act. And with the help of a few programmer friends pulling long hours for about 100 days straight, Hager created SafeFun, a Houston-based digital health passport that allows users to voluntarily and easily share COVID-19 test results and information. Read more.

Carrie Colbert saw an opportunity is funding female-founded companies, and she's taking it. Photo courtesy of Curate Capital

Houston investor goes all in on funding female founders

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 81

Carrie Colbert wasn't planning on becoming a venture capital investor — it just happened organically.

"This has been kind of a backwards process. Our fund was driven by demand," Colbert, founder and general partner of Houston-based Curate Capital, says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We were getting such good deal flow in terms of quantity and quality."

Colbert says she originally carved out a practical career and worked her way up the corporate ladder within the energy industry — first at Anadarko Petroleum and then at Hilcorp Energy Co. — for almost 20 years. On the side, she was also establishing herself as a prominent content creator specializing in all things colorful on her blog and Instagram.

It was through the network she created that she started learning about up-and-coming businesses that she wanted to get involved in — first as an angel investor for a few years and now through her VC.

"Instagram turned out to be one of the best networking tools for me," Colbert says. "You can connect with people wherever they are and wherever you are."

A prime example of this interaction was Jordan Jones, founder and CEO of Austin-based consumer goods company, Packed Party. Jones suggested meeting up with Colbert, and the two hit it off. Down the road when it came time to fundraise, Colbert became Jones' first outside investor.

"I've never had to search for deals," Colbert says. "I connect with them on social media or, in pre-pandemic days, I meet them at creative conferences."

Now, under her Curate Capital, Colbert is raising an initial $10 million fund — and she's already committed about 40 percent of that into companies across industries — consumer packaged goods, fintech, health tech, and more.

"We are not industry specific," Colbert says. "Rather, where I have found our sweet spot to be is businesses by women, for women... That's where I think I can provide the most value."

Female founders continue to be funded less than their male counterparts, and Crunchbase reported that last year the discrepancy increased drastically. Colbert recognizes this need and carved out her niche accordingly.

"Women control so much of the spending, and yet are getting so few of the VC dollars. We really see that as an opportunity. It's not a problem we're trying to fix necessarily — we certainly can't rectify it on our own," Colbert says.

Colbert expects her first fund's initial close around July, and she also plans on announcing new investments in the next few weeks. She's also working on bringing on new limited partners and will soon be launching a crowdfunding opportunity to get more women in her network involved.

Colbert shares more about Curate Capital and her advice for her fellow female entrepreneurs on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Houston software co. secures $39M in financing, launches latest product upgrade

fresh funding

A Houston software-as-a-service company has secured $39 million in financing and announced its latest upgrade to its platform.

Graylog, which has created an innovative platform for cybersecurity and IT operations, raised equity funding with participation from new investor Silver Lake Waterman and existing investors Piper Sandler Merchant Banking and Harbert Growth Partners leading the round.

“The growth we are seeing globally is a response to our team’s focus on innovation, a superior user experience, low total cost of ownership, and strong execution from our Go-To-Market and Customer Success teams,” Andy Grolnick, CEO of Graylog, says in a news release. “We expect this momentum to continue as Graylog expands its reach and raises its profile in the security market.”

Grolnick tells TechCrunch that the financing includes $9 million in a series C extension round and $30 million in “flex debt.” The company closed its series C in 2021.

In its news release, Graylog reported a 67 percent increase in new bookings as of last quarter. The company also reported the acquisition of Resurface.io’s API security platform in July, growth in Europe and Asia Pacific, and availability on AWS Marketplace among its list of recent growth opportunities.

“Graylog’s solid growth underscores the strength of the extensible Threat Detection & Incident Response platform the team has built to help customers detect and respond to cybersecurity threats and leverage advanced log management for operational effectiveness,” Shawn O’Neill, managing director and group head of Silver Lake Waterman, says in the release. “We look forward to partnering with Graylog to help enable their continued success.”

The financing was announced October 31, and today, November 1, Graylog announced version 5.2 of its platform technology for its users.

The company plans to use its funding on product development and differentiation, scaling, and as a bridge to profitability, which Grolnick tells TechCrunch is just around the corner.

“Graylog’s product-led growth model, combined with its focus on customer success, continues to be an attractive combination that bodes well for its future," Bob Rinek, managing director with Piper Sandler Merchant Banking, says in the release. "We’re also excited about Graylog’s expansion into the API Security space to help its customers defend this vulnerable attack surface."

Originally founded in 2009 by Lennart Koopmann as an open source project, Houston-based VC firm Mercury invested in the company in 2014. Grolnick has served as CEO since 2020.

Houston-based Graylog announced new financing as well as a new version of its software this week. Photo via graylog.org

Rice University taps 11 Houston business leaders for new entrepreneurship council

leadership council

Rice University has named 11 successful business leaders with ties Houston to its inaugural council focused on entrepreneurship.

Frank Liu, a Rice alumnus and founder of the Rice University Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, or Lilie, recruited the entrepreneurs to the council, and each has agreed to donate time and money to the university’s entrepreneurship programs, according to the university.

Members of the council, known as the Lilie’s Leadership Council or LLC, individuals have experience in a variety of fields, from the industrial and automotive sectors to local government and public radio.

"I owe much of my entrepreneurial success to opportunities I had while at Rice University,” Liu says in a statement. “I can't imagine the heights students today can achieve with the resources that now exist through Lilie. Over the last several years, as the No. 1 ranked Graduate Entrepreneurship program in the country, we have seen exponential growth in student engagement, and we have witnessed the life-changing technologies—tackling big problems in industries like energy and healthcare—bred within Lilie classes and programs. I am thankful for the commitment of Lilie's Leadership Council for propelling these founders from the classroom to the community and building the next generation of Houston's economy.”

LCC's inaugural cohort includes:

  • Sandy P. Aron: president of Hunington Properties who has served on the boards of the St. Francis Episcopal Day School of Houston, Congregation Beth Israel of Houston and Jones Partnership at Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business
  • John Chao, vice president and managing director of Westlake Innovations and board member of Westlake Corp. The Rice alumnus previously served as COO of New York Public Radio and partner in the strategy and finance practice at McKinsey & Co.
  • Shoukat Dhanani, CEO of Sugar Land-based Dhanani Group Inc., a family owned and operated business conglomerate
  • Lorin Gu, founding partner of Recharge Capital and the founding chair of the Global Future Council at the Peterson Institute of International Economics
  • Earl Hesterberg, former CEO of Group 1 Automotive and former group vice president of North America marketing, sales and service for Ford Motor Co., who is currently chairing the capital campaign at Kids Meal Inc. in Houston.
  • Robert T. Ladd, chairman and chief executive of Stellus Capital Investment Corp. who is also chairman of the board of trustees of Rice and a member of the advisory council for the UT Health's McGovern Medical School
  • Frank Liu, co-founder and co-owner of Lovett Industrial and the founder and owner of Lovett Commercial, Lovett Homes and InTown Homes
  • Charlie Meyer, CEO of Lovett Industrial who formerly served as managing director at Hines Interests in Houston and director of construction and development for NewQuest Properties. He currently serves on the board of directors for Generation One and NAIOP Houston.
  • Hong Ogle, president of Bank of America Houston and Southeast/Southwest Division Executive for Bank of America Private Bank who serves on the board of Greater Houston Partnership and Central Houston Inc. and chairs the Bank of America Charitable Foundation in Houston.
  • Annise Parker, Houston’s 61st mayor who is currently CEO of the Victory Fund, a nonprofit devoted to electing pro-equality, pro-choice LGBTQ+ leaders to public office
  • Gary Stein, CEO of Triple-S Steel Holdings who serves on the American Institute of Steel Construction Board and the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors

Over the summer, Lilie and Rice's Office of Innovation also announced its 2023 cohort of Innovation Fellows. The program, open to Rice faculty and doctoral and postdoctoral students, provides support to move innovation out of labs and into commercialization and up to $20,000 in funding.

Earlier this year, Lilie also launched a new startup accelerator program for students called the Summer Venture Studio, which ran from May through August.

Sneak peek: Previewing the Houston Innovation Awards

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 210

The Houston Innovation Awards is just one week away, and in the latest episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, InnovationMap Editor Natalie Harms shares what attendees need to know about joining in on the festivities on November 8.

Listen to the episode and secure your tickets below, and stay tuned into the editorial series to learn more about this year's honorees.