Houston-based SiteAware has raised $10 million in its latest round of funding. Photo courtesy of SiteAware

A growing startup that provides artificial intelligence-enabled verification software to the construction industry has announced the closing of a multimillion-dollar round.

Houston-based SiteAware announced last week that it's closed a $10 million series A investment round that was co-led by San Diego-based Axon Ventures and Germany-based Robert Bosch Venture Capital.

The company's platform uses AI and digital twin technology to provide real-time verification of construction fieldwork. According to a press release from SiteAware, the construction industry represents a $1.3 trillion market share of the United States economy.

"The cost of construction errors and the risk mitigation costs contribute to 10 to 30 percent of this number. SiteAware's technology significantly lowers this overhead, allowing for customers to reap the benefit," says Zeev Braude, SiteAware CEO, in the release.

By scanning buildings under construction, SiteAware's technology constructs a 3D model of the area and compares the progress of the structures to the construction plans in real time. This technology allows for any deviations from the plan to be realized as soon as possible, which means avoiding costly repairs or reconstructions.

"By enabling general contractors and developers to reduce the cost of errors and better mitigate risk, the ripple effect lowers the cost of real estate, providing better value opportunities for home buyers," Braude adds in the release. "Our technology closes the gap between plans and field work, solving this very important challenge within the trillion dollar construction sector."

SiteAware, which was founded in 2015 by Braude and CTO Ori Aphek, previously raised seed funding in 2015 and 2016. Existing investors, including lool Ventures, Oryzn Ventures, The Flying Object and Power Capital Venture also participated in the round.

"SiteAware has built a state of the art technology which provides the digital value that the construction industry has been needing, and we're excited to join in their vision," says Arad Naveh, partner at Axon VC, says in the release. "We were highly impressed that they were able to build a customer base of market leaders, and moreover, the impact that SiteAware's tools are already making."

SiteAware's technology can analyze construction sites in real time. Image courtesy of SiteAware

Houston comes in at No. 7 on a new list of most apartments completed during the first six months of 2020. Photo courtesy of Caydon

Houston booms with new apartment construction in 2020, report says

STANDING APART

The coronavirus pandemic has brought many activities to a unsettling halt. But it has failed to blunt Houston's apartment construction boom.

New data from Yardi Matrix, a supplier of commercial real estate data and research, shows that Houston comes in at No. 7 for most apartments completed during the first six months of 2020, with 2,085 apartments built.

Houston also comes in third place for projected apartment completions in 2020 is the Houston metro area. Yardi Matrix foresees the Bayou City region welcoming 10,404 new apartments this year, up 2 percent from 2019.

Little surprise to those paying attention to Texas real estate: More apartments were completed in Austin during the first six months of 2020 than in any other U.S. city. In the first half of the year, construction of 3,827 apartments was finished within the city of Austin, according to Yardi Matrix.

Right behind Austin on that list is San Antonio, where 2,871 new apartments hit the market in the first half of this year. Dallas follows Houston at No. 8 with 1,869 units; behind Big D is Farmers Branch, No. 18 with 1,161 units.

"Around the U.S., we have seen a variety of states, counties, and cities choose to close nonessential businesses for 'stay at home' or 'shelter in place' orders. For the most part, construction activity has been included as an essential activity that can continue with business as usual during these orders," Doug Ressler, manager of business intelligence at Yardi Matrix, says in a release.

"The popular Texas metropolitan area saw an increase of 62,000 residents from 2018 to 2019," Yardi Matrix says. "In response to the high demand, Austin metro has been an active scene for new construction in the past five years, having completed over 50,000 new apartments since 2016."

In the Yardi Matrix forecast, Dallas-Fort Worth eclipses all other U.S. metro areas for the number of new apartments predicted to be finished this year — 19,318. This would be DFW's third year in a row to lead all metro areas for annual apartment construction, with New York City claiming second place.

While that's an impressive amount of apartments, this year's anticipated final total for DFW would be down 29 percent versus last year, Yardi Matrix says.

Coming in at No. 19 for predicted apartment completions this year is the San Antonio area, with 4,595 new units on taps. However, that total would represent a 20 percent jump over last year, putting San Antonio in fourth place for the percentage increase from 2019 to 2020.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston-based Hitched has dug up new investment money from a local private equity firm. Pexels

Houston-based digital marketplace for industrial equipment raises $5.5 million series A

money moves

A Houston startup that acts as a digital marketplace for industrial equipment in the oil and gas and construction industries closed a sizeable series A financing round this month.

Hitched Inc. raised $5.5 million in its series A funding led by Houston-based Cottonwood Venture Partners, a growth equity firm that focuses on digital tech solutions in the energy industry.

"It is encouraging to see the support and excitement from CVP," Hitched's Founder and CEO Adam Gilles says in a press release. "With this Series A funding, we plan to continue to shake things up in the oil & gas, construction, and industrial industries."

The company, which was founded in 2018, coordinates the rentals — from hosting and chartering to managing them — all on one centralized platform. Hitched has a catalogue of equipment from generators and cranes to light towers, pumps to forklifts, and the site lists out the cost per day of each piece of machinery.

According to the release, Hitched will use the fresh funds to advance its product development and customer experience as it continues "to reinvent the industrial rental marketplace."

"We're delighted to partner with the Hitched team. The industrial rental segment is incredibly opaque and riddled with inefficiencies," says Ryan Gurney, managing partner of CVP, in the news release. "The Hitched platform provides both a transparent marketplace and an important management tool that allows both the renter and rentee to optimize rental inventory."

The Cannon is expecting to open by the end of next month. Courtesy of The Cannon

Photos: The Cannon enters home stretch ahead of opening next month

Cannon Countdown

If all goes according to plan, The Cannon's new space will be up and running by the end of June. The bulk of the construction, which started a little over a year ago, is done, and the team is on the home stretch.

The original plan was to open in March, but construction faced a series of setbacks due to weather.

"Houston's rainy winter pushed back our initial timeline a bit, but we are currently on track for opening late next month and are excited to get our amazing community moved into our brand new home," says Lawson Gow, founder and CEO of The Cannon. "We can't wait to show off our space to Houston's entrepreneurial community through events, programming, new partnerships and more, continuing in our mission to support Houston's startups and small businesses."

Two Houston-based companies are responsible for the 120,000-square-foot, 32-acre coworking and entrepreneurship campus in West Houston — Burton Construction is the general contractor and Abel Design Group is the architect.

The new space is already 80 percent pre-leased. Currently, The Cannon has a 20,000-square-foot space next door to the construction site. While companies working out of this so-called "waiting room" building will be moving over, Gow, who is the son of InnovationMap's CEO, is excited to announce a few new startups excited to call The Cannon home next month.

The goal of The Cannon's project is to fulfill a need Gow says he recognized in Houston.

"The problem that we're addressing — every startup is addressing a problem — is Houston has really struggled to develop vibrant startup communities," Gow tells InnovationMap in a previous interview. "Entrepreneurs and talent will leave to go to Austin and beyond, and so the mission was to create a place and an infrastructure and a density of resources to prevent them from having to do that and keep our entrepreneurs here."

The new space will allow Gow and his team to host pitch events and even live fundraising events, due to a partnership with LetsLaunch.

Progress

Courtesy of The Cannon

The Cannon's construction delays were mostly due to a rainy season in Houston.

Take a video tour of The Cannon here:

The Cannon Flythrough www.youtube.com

Lori-Lee Emshey's Future Sight AR is revolutionizing antiquated construction tools using augmented reality. Courtesy of Future Sight AR

Houston company has sight set on AR solutions for industrial construction

Visual aid

When Lori-Lee Emshey got her first oil and gas construction job in Australia, she was carrying around a backpack full of papers.

"I was really shocked at how much work they were doing with such little technology," Emshey says. "I thought, 'there's so much room for innovation here.'"

She realized that it wasn't just that site or the company she was working for — this was a problem across the industry. So, she came up with a solution. Houston-based Future Sight AR is an augmented reality technology to more efficient work on industrial construction sites. Workers can use a smart device in the field, point it at a problem on site, log the issue, and see the steps needed to fix it.

Constructing a company
Emshey realized the potential for a company in January 2016. Since then, she's partnered up with her co-founders, Sofia Lazaro and Veena Somareddy, attended accelerators and conferences across the country, completed a proof of concept, until finally incorporated this year.

It was a well-paced start for the company because they got to prove time and time again there was a need for the company. Emshey says she never wanted to start a company just to start a company. They worked tirelessly at the beginning to ensure there was no one out there already doing this in the way they were doing it.

"I feel like a lot of entrepreneurs now become an entrepreneur because it's trendy and cool, and you want to put it in your Instagram bio," she says. "The three of us aren't like that. We did this because we had to. It wasn't going to get done another way, and we couldn't let this giant opportunity float on by."

Once they got a firm footing, one of the challenges they faced was communicating the company's market need and how the technology works to individuals outside the industry. For Emshey, this was particularly annoying.

"I came from a journalism background, and it's storytelling," she says. "I thought, 'I should be able to do this.'"

Something eventually just clicked, and Emshey stopped seeing confused faces in response to her presentation, and she started seeing more head nodding. However, another challenge she says she occasionally faces is how she looks.

"It is tough. I'm pitching this industrial construction startup, and I show up and I'm a 5-foot-5 blond woman," she says. "And some people don't care, and some people would prefer I looked a different way."

Foreseeing the company's future
Raising capital has been the latest focus for Future Sight AR. Aside from some grants and accelerator money, the company hasn't raised much. They've only just started meeting with investors and have a plan to launch a round of fundraising next year. Emshey also says they are looking to partner with three companies to conduct a few pilots early next year.

It's a great time in technology for Future Sight AR as more and more people are using AR and virtual reality. People use AR or VR often — in SnapChat filters or through Pokemon Go!

Emshey says she thinks VR will grow first in gaming, while AR will take off through enterprise.

"Unlike VR when you're completely immersed, in AR, you're seeing your actual environment and one of the places you have to do that is at work," Emshey says.

Whether it's through being acquired or growing the company on its own, Emshey says she wants Future Sight AR to evolve the industry as a whole.

"If we could permanently change the way that we build projects — oil and gas or another industry — and move it toward something more efficient, safer, more productive, and a better experience for workers, and accomplish that in a permanent way in a permanent way, then we're successful," she says. "We really built this for me — I was the worker out in the field trying to do things, and it was unnecessarily difficult."

The Cannon's 120,000-square-foot space is on track to open March 1. Courtesy of The Cannon

Photos: West Houston coworking space 50 percent leased ahead of early 2019 opening

Ready, aim, fire

Everything's bigger in Texas, and Houston will soon have a coworking space to reflect that. The Cannon is on track to open its West Houston 120,000-square-foot, 32-acre coworking and entrepreneurship campus by March 1.

"We're going to have, as far as I know, the biggest coworking space in the world," says Lawson Gow, founder and CEO of The Cannon. "It's a really Houston-sized solution to the problem of the challenge we set out to face."

The construction broke ground in April, and Gow — son of David Gow, owner of InnovationMap's parent company Gow Media — says they haven't seen any real delays so far. The new space will have 11 meeting rooms, sound-proof phone booths, 24-hour access, health and wellness room, courtyard, movie theater, a gameroom, and more to offer its coworkers.

Currently, The Cannon's coworkers are functioning out of a 20,000-square-foot space at 1336 Brittmoore Road, also known as the waiting room, which is adjacent to the construction.

The Cannon has 50 percent of the new space already leased — and Gow says about 75 percent of the pre-leased companies are already companies working out of The Cannon. Gow says he's just started doing some promotion around leasing — hard hat happy hours and tours — but he's not too worried about being 100 percent leased. He just wants to make sure there are enough companies in there by opening day.

"We've painstakingly created the culture of the community in The Cannon in the space we're in now, and we have to do that all over again," Gow says. "We want to have the hustle and bustle in the space, and you can't do that if it's empty."

Two Houston-based companies are responsible for the project; Burton Construction is the general contractor and Abel Design Group is the architect.

A few years ago, Gow says he recognized a need in Houston — and The Cannon was his solution.

"The problem that we're addressing — every startup is addressing a problem — is Houston has really struggled to develop vibrant startup communities," Gow says. "Entrepreneurs and talent will leave to go to Austin and beyond, and so the mission was to create a place and an infrastructure and a density of resources to prevent them from having to do that and keep our entrepreneurs here."

Large and in charge

Courtesy of The Cannon

The new Cannon facility will be the largest coworking space in Houston, says Lawson Gow, founder and CEO of The Cannon.

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Houston blockchain startup to collaborate to increase supply chain transparency

impact shopping

More than two-thirds of the country's consumers have been reported saying that a business's social reputation will influence their buying decisions. A Houston blockchain startup has teamed up with another company to increase transparency.

Topl and Denver-based TrackX, a software-as-a-service asset management and supply chain solution provider, have entered into a partnership aimed at combining technology to create a verifiable tracking and tracing solution to equip company supply chains with sustainability, transparency, and efficiency.

According to Topl CEO, Kim Raath, the FDA announced new requirements in September, and the new rule requires full traceability in several agri-food products.

"This new rule will force many agri-food brands to take a deep look across their supply chains and find a way to track and trace their products," says Raath in a press release. "Topl and TrackX's solution will be a great option for these companies having to comply with new regulations and compliance mandates. Further, our joint solution allows users to visualize their supply chain data, monitor suppliers, and easily report the progress of ESG initiatives to all stakeholders."

Kim Raath is the CEO of Topl. Photo courtesy of Topl

Together with Topl's purpose-built blockchain technology and TrackX's core enterprise asset management and supply chain optimization capabilities, companies can securely share verified event data to lower costs and increase transparency.

"Our clients have a unique opportunity to turn supply chain optimization into a competitive advantage," says Tim Harvie, TrackX CEO, in the release. "TrackX already automates supply chain execution and analytics for many leading brands and retailers.

"Tight integration with Topl's blockchain will now provide the 'proof' to all supply chain stakeholders that certain events have occurred," he continues. "In partnership with Topl, our enterprise customers will have the tracing, tracking, visibility and accountability they need to meet their digital supply chain and ESG initiatives."

Houston energy expert on how big data yields more reliable results

Guest column

Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of need tells us that at our core, humans crave safety and sustenance. When you turn on the light each morning while getting ready for work, or when you check your bank account and see your paycheck arrived on schedule, we expect every aspect of our daily lives to work.

In today's world, we often take these things for granted, until reliability is threatened. Our dependency is revealed in the frenzy over a potential toilet paper shortage and in the panic buying of gasoline in a hurricane. When things in society are consistent, economies thrive. However, when you introduce fear and uncertainty, things begin to spiral. It is in these times that the decisions we make can have the biggest impact on the world around us.

The link between impactful decisions and reliability has brought our society to a pivotal moment in history. We have created a society so reliable and developed that even during the coronavirus lockdown, the basic needs of Americans could be met with only 25 percent of our workforce actively working. By increasing productivity using machines and systems, we have been able to improve our overall quality of life, but not without a price. As a result of such high improvement, we as a society have come to not only expect, but demand, reliability at all times.

When dependability waivers and anxiety rises, those in key decision-making positions are faced with unprecedented situations. Due to distress and a lack of understanding of certain situations, those in decision making positions are often times forced to make decisions based on rapid response and emotion. Because of this, consistency and reliability suffer.

A prime example of an emotional response is the coronavirus shutdown that occurred earlier this year. As a response to the growing fear and panic over the virus, major portions of our economy were shut down; schools were closed; and citizens were confined to their homes.

What followed was the bankruptcy of thousands of businesses, an unprecedented wave of fear throughout society and a disruption to the consistency of our daily lives. We have yet to know what lasting impacts this decision will have on our future economy or livelihood, but we now understand that rapid decision making is often met with long-term consequences.

While there will continue to be disagreements on all sides regarding the handling of the shutdown, what is undisputable is that we as a society have gained an opportunity to learn. We now have the unique advantage of using data in ways that has never been used before in order to make consistently better decisions, allowing us the opportunity to perform at levels we have never thought possible.

Whether it be data advancements in sports (think Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics), or the progression of technology (continuous iPhone updates), we are able to study the improvements of data on society in order to make more reliable decisions. With more powerful data analytics and innovations in data sciences, we are able to positively impact the most vital components of our society in order to make decisions that will drive evolution and reliability.

As the world continues to progress, the decisions we are forced to make have become more complex. With each complicated decision comes the potential for lasting positive or negative impact on society. In shifting from emotional, rapid reactions towards more data and quantitative focused methods, we have the unique and unprecedented opportunity to make our world a more reliable, stable and creative place.

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Ryan Sitton is the founder of Pinnacle and the author of "Crucial Decisions."

Rice scientist tapped by NASA for Mars mission

robo-naut

A Rice University Martian geologist has been chosen by NASA as one of the 13 scientists who will be working on a new Mars rover.

Perseverance, the rover that launched in July and is expected to land on Mars in February. It will be scouting for samples to bring back to study for ancient microbial life, and Kirsten Siebach — an assistant professor of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences — will be among the researchers to work on the project. Her proposal was one of 119 submitted to NASA for funding, according to a Rice press release.

"Everybody selected to be on the team is expected to put some time into general operations as well as accomplishing their own research," she says in the release. "My co-investigators here at Rice and I will do research to understand the origin of the rocks Perseverance observes, and I will also participate in operating the rover."

It's Kirsten Siebach's second Mars rover mission to work on. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Perseverance is headed for Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide area that once hosted a lake and river delta where, according to scientists, microbial life may have existed over 3 billion years ago. Siebach is particularly excited hopefully find fossils existing in atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolved in water — which usually exists as limestone on Earth.

"There are huge packages of limestone all over Earth, but for some reason it's extremely rare on Mars," she says. "This particular landing site includes one of the few orbital detections of carbonate and it appears to have a couple of different units including carbonates within this lake deposit. The carbonates will be a highlight of we're looking for, but we're interested in basically all types of minerals."

Siebach is familiar with rovers — she was a member of the team for NASA's Curiosity rover, which has been exploring Mars since 2012. For this new rover, Siebach knows what to expect.

"Because there is only one rover, the whole team at NASA has to agree about what to look at, or analyze, or where to drive on any given day," Siebach says in the release. "None of the rovers' actions are unilateral decisions. But it is a privilege to be part of the discussion and to get to argue for observations of rocks that will be important to our understanding of Mars for decades."

Siebach and her team — which includes Rice data scientist Yueyang Jiang and mineralogist Gelu Costin — are planning to tap into computational and machine-learning methods to map out minerals and discover evidence for former life on Mars. They will also be using a Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry, or PIXL, to analyze the materials.

The return mission isn't expected to return until the early 2030s, so it's a long game for the scientists. However, the samples have the potential to revolutionize what we know about life on Mars with more context than before.

"Occasionally, something hits Mars hard enough to knock a meteorite out, and it lands on Earth," she says in the release. "We have a few of those. But we've never been able to select where a sample came from and to understand its geologic context. So these samples will be revolutionary."