3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Armand Paradis of ComboCurve, Matthew Nojoomi of Ictero Medical, and Ryan McCord of McCord Development. Courtesy photos

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

Armand Paradis, co-founder of ComboCurve

Armand Paradis joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how his energy software business is scaling rapidly. Photo courtesy

Houston-based ComboCurve is growing rapidly. The energy software company has raised over $60 million in venture capital investment — $50 million of which was closed in the company’s series B round earlier this year. Since the original product launched in May of 2020, CEO and Co-Founder Armand Paradis says the platform has almost 200 companies on it.

“We built something that resonated with the market — and we were super passionate about the product and taking care of our industry,” Paradis says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “We don’t want to be the best in oil and gas. We want to be the best software company." Click here to read more.

Matthew Nojoomi, CEO and co-founder of Ictero Medical

This innovative medical device company has closed $6 million for further product development and clinical trials. Image via TMC.edu

Houston-based medical device company Ictero Medical closed its oversubscribed series A at $6 million. The funding round was led by MedTex Ventures, S3 Ventures, and an undisclosed strategic investor. The company's novel cryoablation system was designed to treat high-risk gallstone disease patients and provide a less invasive and lower risk alternative to gallbladder removal surgery — something over 1 million Americans undergo annually.

“Our technology provides an immediate solution for critically ill patients who currently have no good treatment options, and also has the potential to benefit healthier patients who want to avoid surgery,” says Ictero Co-Founder and CEO Matthew Nojoomi in the release. Click here to read more.

Ryan McCord, president of McCord Development

Houston real estate expert shares why he thinks the city is prime for smart city tech and implementation. Photo courtesy

Houston has every tool in its toolkit to be able to emerge as a smart city leader. In a guest column for InnovationMap, Ryan McCord of McCord Development explains the momentum the city already has and the existing smart city opportunities already in town.

"Houston’s diversity, business-friendly environment, and workforce make it a prime candidate to become a smart city. Becoming smarter in our transportation, public safety, sustainability practices, and infrastructure will create a better future for Houstonians." Click here to read more.

Armand Paradis joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how his energy software business is scaling rapidly. Photo courtesy

Fresh off a $50M series B, fast-growing Houston startup aims to upgrade energy sector tech

Houston innovators podcast episode 132

The energy industry has historically made critical and timely decisions with antiquated and disjointed software, and that just was not ideal for Armand Paradis.

“In our space, all the decisions are expensive,” Paradis tells the Houston Innovators Podcast. “We could go all the way into the billions of dollars making decisions using software from 30 or 40 years ago. I really thought this was a problem.”

Paradis, observing this opportunity in the industry, left his job at Equinor to launch ComboCurve, a comprehensive and more effective software platform for various verticals within the energy industry.

ComboCurve has raised over $60 million in venture capital investment — $50 million of which was closed in the company’s series B round earlier this year. It wasn’t just funding ComboCurve expanded over the past few years. The original product launched in May of 2020 and in 2021, added around 100 companies onto its platform. Now, not even halfway through 2022, almost 200 companies use the software.

“We built something that resonated with the market — and we were super passionate about the product and taking care of our industry,” Paradis says on the podcast.

“We don’t want to be the best in oil and gas. We want to be the best software company,” he continues.

One focus ComboCurve has is on the energy transition. He says energy companies are making moves in lowering their carbon emissions and investing in greener technology — they just might not be talking about it.

“We want to be the role model — the company that’s being super proactive in their environmental practices,” Paradis says. “To be able to do that, you have to be open and proactive about reducing emissions. The other piece is to talk about it.”

At this point, Paradis says we need all energy — fossil fuels, nuclear, renewables, etc. This year, ComboCurve will roll out its GHG, or greenhouse gas, module to help customers track and lower their emissions.

“We are working with a handful of operators working in this space,” he says. “We want to allow for operators to be able to predict their emissions and see the impact on their projects.”




The series B capital will allow the company to enhance its core product, while also adding on other workflows that focus on emissions and renewable energy. Image via combocurve.com

Fast-growing energy fintech startup raises $50M series B

money moves

Houston-based ComboCurve announced today that it has raised $50 million through a series B funding round led by Dragoneer Investment Group and Bessemer Venture Partners.

Founded in 2017, the company is a cloud-based energy analytics and operating platform that uses sophisticated software to forecast and report on a company's energy assets, including renewables.

The series B capital will allow the company to enhance its core product, while also adding on other workflows that focus on emissions and renewable energy.

ComboCurve raised its series A less than six months ago, according to a release. The company was founded by Armand Paradis and Jeremy Gottlieb, who have backgrounds in engineering and finance, respectively.

“ComboCurve was created to solve critical pain points, helping energy companies better manage their forecasting, valuation, reporting and decision-making functions,” Paradis, who also serves as CEO, said in a statement. “Our solution has resulted in widespread adoption by many of the world’s leading energy companies, and this investment led by Dragoneer and Bessemer, two of the world’s leading technology investment firms, will enable us to engage with additional energy companies to operate more efficiently.”

Since the completion of the company's series A, ComboCurve has taken on more than 170 customers, including the likes of Devon Energy and Pioneer Natural Resources, according to ComboCurve's website.

The company describes its platform as a "supercharged Aries but easy to use," referring to the ARIES Petroleum Economic Software by Landmark Solutions, on LinkedIn. The platform provides forecast modules, workflows and fully integrated economics, with GHC and carbon reporting features in the works that will allow users to estimate future emissions.

“ComboCurve is in the early innings of building a truly enduring franchise that is rapidly becoming the software backbone of their customers’ day-to-day operations,” Christian Jensen, partner at Dragoneer Investment Group, said in a statement. “We are excited to partner with Armand and his world-class team as they continue to deepen their suite with existing customers and expand their platform into renewables, emissions reporting, and all corners of the energy market.”

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University of Houston powers up first robot food server in a U.S. restaurant

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The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

“People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

The Servi robots deliver food from the kitchen to the table. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

“Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

Once loaded, the kitchen staff can tell the Servi robots where to take the dishes. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings.

“Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

“To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

"Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

"We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

"Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

Houston SPAC announces merger with Beaumont-based tech company in deal valued at $100M

speaking of spacs

A Houston SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, has announced the company it plans to merge with in the new year.

Beaumont-based Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc., a provider of thermal imaging platforms, and Houston-based SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: SMAP), a publicly-traded SPAC with $117 million held in trust, announced their agreement for ICI to IPO via SPAC.

Originally announced in the fall of last year, the blank-check company is led by David Gow, CEO and chairman. Gow is also chairman and CEO of Gow Media, which owns digital media outlets SportsMap, CultureMap, and InnovationMap, as well as the SportsMap Radio Network, ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

The deal will close in the first half of 2023, according to a news release, and the combined company will be renamed Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc. and will be listed on NASDAQ under a new ticker symbol.

“ICI is extremely excited to partner with David Gow and SportsMap as we continue to deliver our innovative software and hardware solutions," says Gary Strahan, founder and CEO of ICI, in the release. "We believe our software and sensor technology can change the way companies across industries perform predictive maintenance to ensure reliability, environmental integrity, and safety through AI and machine learning.”

Strahan will continue to serve as CEO of the combined company, and Gow will become chairman of the board. The transaction values the combined company at a pre-money equity valuation of $100 million, according to the release, and existing ICI shareholders will roll 100 percent of their equity into the combined company as part of the transaction.

“We believe ICI is poised for strong growth," Gow says in the release. "The company has a strong value proposition, detecting the overheating of equipment in industrial settings. ICI also has assembled a strong management team to execute on the opportunity. We are delighted to combine our SPAC with ICI.”

Founded in 1995, ICI provides infrared and imaging technology — as well as service, training, and equipment repairs — to various businesses and individuals across industries.