A Houston company has raised additional funding as it grows its encrypted lodging booking platform. Photo via Gustavo Fring/Pexels

A travel booking technology company that's looking to alleviate some of the stresses of finding and making hotel reservations has raised additional seed funding.

Houston-based Pinktada has raised additional funding to the tune of $975,000. Ireland-based Selenean Capital contributed to the seed funding round, joining the company's previous investor True Global Ventures 4 Plus, which has invested $2 million to date. According to Crunchbase data, the latest investment brings the company's total to $3.9 million.

“Selenean Capital’s approach to partnership is identifying real world future needs and then working relentlessly to achieve those goals," says Davin Browne, Selenean’s CEO, in a news release. "Pinktada encapsulates this perfectly with a transformational approach to the hotel booking model built around a brilliant team. We look forward to the partnership and journey with them."

Founded in 2020, Pinktada launched its booking platform earlier this year. The technology — backed by NFT encryption — allows users to sell or trade existing lodging reservations. As many hotels and third-party booking sites offer cheaper non-refundable booking options, Pinktada gives travelers a secure alternative if their plans change. The company's hotel partners can benefit from the transactions, too, per the company's statement.

“We are thrilled with the market validation we are receiving,” says Mark J. Gordon, chief hospitality officer, in the release. “We launched in May with properties in Hawaii and the Dominican Republic, have since added exquisite hotels in Mexico, New York, Miami and San Francisco, and have another 18 in the process of being on-boarded. More important though is the caliber of our partners, which are leading hotel industry names.”

According to the company, membership grew 20 percent in August and 40 percent in September as the platform added new hotel partners.

“We could not be more excited about our prospects," says Lyon Hardgrave, Pinktada’s CEO, in the release. “This investment reflects the significant progress we have made this year. It will allow us to accelerate the onboarding of new hotels, dial up marketing efforts, and continue to evolve our technology to embrace other large opportunities.”

Houston Texans fans can now make purchases with cryptocurrency, thanks to Houston-based BitWallet. Image via houstontexans.com

Houston Texans taps local startup to be exclusive cryptocurrency platform

ready player crypto

The Houston Texans are making a major pass into the crypto space.

A new partnership has made it the first team in the NFL to allow the sale of its suites through digital currency.

In an agreement announced this week, the Houston Texans have partnered with Houston-based cryptocurrency company, BitWallet, to become the official digital currency wallet of the organization. The partnership goes into effect immediately.

Through this partnership, fans now can use cryptocurrency to purchase single game suites, using BitWallet as the means to convert the cryptocurrency into U.S. dollars.

"We are proud to partner with BitWallet to offer an exciting option for our fans who are looking to enjoy Texans gameday in one of our suites," says Houston Texans President Greg Grissom. "BitWallet is a perfect collaborator as we continue our efforts to move our organization forward in new and innovative ways."

BitWallet was founded by CEO John Perrone in 2017 and has raised $2.1 million in seed over one round, according to CrunchBase.

"Digital currency has become a primary means of payment and by partnering with BitWallet, the Texans are leading the way in the NFL," Perrone says. "I am honored that BitWallet is the first to offer Texans fans this service."

Detractors are suspicious of the anonymity that comes with blockchain technology. Supporters say it's exactly the point. Photo via David McBee/Pexels

Houston expert weighs in on the trustworthiness of cryptocurrency

houston voices

Interest in cryptocurrencies reignited during the pandemic, driven in part by trillions of dollars in stimulus money that left many investors with “free money” to put to work. And while bitcoin recently tumbled nearly 55 percent from its peak, it remains the most valuable crypto asset in the world, with a market capitalization of around $589 billion. Its investors argue that it’s still a safer bet than stocks during this period of economic upheaval.

A renewed interest in cryptocurrencies — digital currencies that rely on blockchain technology, in which transactions are verified and records maintained by a decentralized system that uses cryptography — is widespread. Large corporations like Tesla, Mass Mutual and KPMG Canada have announced plans to hold cryptocurrency assets in treasury or accept them as payment. Meanwhile, major financial institutions are offering customers more digital asset investment options. Twelve years after bitcoin’s birth, mainstream investors are honing in on the currency, too.

In the midst of this market fascination, a fundamental question still remains. What exactly is cryptocurrency, and why should we care? And what about other industry buzzwords, like blockchain, decentralized exchanges or non-fungible tokens (NFTs)? Are they all just fads that will fade away?

Some have called cryptocurrency a Ponzi scheme, a tool for illicit activities, or a short-term fascination that will be irrelevant in a few years. It’s an understandable mindset, since there’s no intrinsic value in cryptocurrencies — not unlike the U.S. dollar after it stopped being backed by gold in the 1970s. But it’s also a shortsighted one. Blockchain technology, which allows users to exchange information on a secure digital ledger, is extremely useful because it automates contractual arrangements through computer programming.

I’m a firm believer that cryptocurrencies and the blockchain technology that underpins them are here to stay, and understanding how this technology has transformed our environment, and how it will continue to evolve, is critical to succeeding in business.

First steps

Bitcoin took the first major steps towards a truly electronic cash system in 2008, in the midst of one of the worst financial collapses of all time. Governments worldwide were bailing out financial institutions that had been deemed “too big to fail.” Perceptions of economic inequality spurred movements such as Occupy Wall Street, which was fueled by a distrust in banks.

Bitcoin, on the other hand, wasn’t created by a trusted source — in fact, no one knows exactly who invented it. In a 2008 white paper, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System,” Satoshi Nakamoto — the pseudonymous individual presumed to have developed bitcoin — described the currency as a way to securely facilitate financial transactions between parties without having to involve a central intermediary. No longer would people have to put their trust in the large financial institutions that failed them during the financial crisis.

Detractors find the lack of a central authority with blockchain worrisome, but proponents say it’s exactly the point: You no longer have to trust the person or institution you’re dealing with. You only have to trust the algorithms that run the program — and presumably an algorithm will never run off with your money.

Instead, blockchain enables a cooperative of members to run the shared network ledger required to keep track of a currency’s credits and debits. No one can shut down the system so long as a group of computers anywhere in the world is able to connect to the internet and run bitcoin’s software.

Because of bitcoin, today we can uniquely own digital assets and transfer them with the certainty that people can’t spend the same cryptocurrency twice. The transactions that bitcoin-like applications make possible are registered in permanent and immutable digital records for all to see in a common ledger.

By enabling fast and easily verifiable transactions, blockchain technology is also streamlining business operations in banking, supply chains, sustainability, healthcare and even voting. Development in these sectors and others is continuing at an intense pace. Annual global funding of blockchain projects now runs in the billions of dollars. From 2020 to 2021 alone, it jumped from several billion to nearly $30 billion.

Second generation

Since bitcoin’s arrival, we’ve seen a second, more sophisticated generation of cryptocurrencies evolve, with Ethereum as their flagship. Ethereum has its own programming language, enabling users to write and automate self-executing smart contracts, allowing for the creation of tokens for a specific use. For example, imagine that when Uber was founded, it had created an Uber token, and only people who owned Uber tokens could use the rideshare service. Tokens currently power thousands of decentralized applications that give people more privacy and control in a variety of areas, such as internet browsing, financial services, gaming and data storage, among others.

Some critiques of cryptocurrency remain. One growing concern is that cryptocurrencies require a significant amount of energy to run their networks, leading to higher transaction costs, energy waste and limited scalability. Newer cryptocurrencies are attempting to find ways to verify transactions that require less energy.

Some people also worry about ongoing volatility in cryptocurrency markets. A third generation of cryptocurrencies has emerged to address this concern: so-called “stablecoins,” which are pegged to a government-issued currency, a commodity, assets, or basket of assets. For some, stablecoins are serving as an onramp into the world of crypto from the world of traditional finance.

Before a new technology becomes part of everyday life, we often see a long period of development, improvement and consumer adoption. Cryptocurrency and blockchain markets are still in this early development stage, but they’re also moving quickly into the mainstream. The total market capitalization of cryptocurrencies late last year briefly reached the $3 trillion mark, or roughly 15 percent of the U.S. GDP, and there’s been more than $100 billion locked into decentralized finance applications.

Large companies like IBM, Amazon and Bank of America are leading the way by tapping into blockchain technology in their daily business activities. It won’t be long until this market, previously characterized by speculation and wild volatility, will be transformed into a stable infrastructure framework. But companies need to get up to speed on the industry now. Those that commit to doing so will be the ones that thrive.


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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and was written by Manolo Sánchez, an adjunct professor of operations management at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.

Could RadioShack make a come back? Photo via Getty Images

Former Texas electronics giant RadioShack reboots as cryptocurrency company

shacking up?

Although the RadioShack electronics retail chain essentially crumbled following bankruptcy filings in 2015 and 2017, the name has survived for 100 years. In a bid to make RadioShack relevant for another 100 years, the brand’s new owner is making a play for one of the hottest, and most controversial, emerging business sectors in the world — cryptocurrency.

Seeking to capitalize on RadioShack’s global brand name, Miami-based owner Retail Ecommerce Ventures is propelling RadioShack (once based in Fort Worth) into the promising yet murky territory of cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency is digital currency built on a technology platform known as blockchain; bitcoin is perhaps the best-known type of cryptocurrency. In November, the size of the global cryptocurrency market surpassed $3 trillion.

“The need for a bridge between the CEOs who control the world’s corporations and the new world of cryptocurrencies will most likely come in the form of a well-known, century-old brand. RadioShack is perfect,” RadioShack proclaims on its website.

High-profile investors like Elon Musk have enthusiastically hopped on the cryptocurrency bandwagon. Yet other big-name investors, such as Warren Buffett, cast doubt on the viability of the scam-prone, highly volatile cryptocurrency market.

The owner of RadioShack clearly shares space on the Musk bandwagon. On its website, RadioShack — whose name still appears on hundreds of stores operated by independent dealers — recently revealed plans for a cryptocurrency platform called RadioShack DeFi (short for decentralized finance). The company touts RadioShack DeFi’s ability to profit from a 100-year-old brand name that’s recognized in more than 190 countries and once encompassed more than 8,000 stores.

The concept calls for people to freely swap existing cryptocurrency tokens for newly created RADIO cryptocurrency tokens through the RadioShack DeFi platform.

“It is our hypothesis that the best way for crypto to be more mainstream is for an established brand name in the tech space to lead the way. … Despite its pullback in the last 10 years, the brand is resolutely embedded in the global consciousness — ripe to be pivoted to lead the way for blockchain tech to mainstream adoption by other large brands,” RadioShack declares.

Retail Ecommerce Ventures bought RadioShack’s brand assets in 2020. The business also owns the ecommerce business of Pier 1, formerly based in Fort Worth, along with obsolete retail brands such as Dressbarn, Linens ’n Things, and Stein Mart.

Interestingly, RadioShack’s cryptocurrency setup would run on a system called Atlas USV that’s owned by entrepreneurs Tai Lopez and Alex Mehr — the same guys who own Retail Ecommerce Ventures and, thus, RadioShack.

“Lopez and Mehr are clearly staking the success of the entire operation on the strength of the RadioShack brand with consumers,” PCMag.com observes.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Spencer Randall, principal and co-founder of CryptoEQ, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how his company has grown alongside the cryptocurrency industry. Photo courtesy of CryptoEQ

Houston startup shines bright as cryptocurrency's 'North Star'

Houston innovator's podcast episode 89

When Spencer Randall and his co-founders dreamt up the idea for CryptoEQ in 2018, they couldn't have even imagined how huge of a presence cryptocurrency would have in the world.

Within the past year, publicly traded companies holding Bitcoin on their balance sheet, El Salvador has announced its adopting Bitcoin as legal tender, dozens of other "altcoins" have emerged, and, as of earlier this month, thousands attended the biggest crypto event in the world.

Helping its users navigate it all is Houston-based CryptoEQ, which has, over the past 18 months, seen 10x growth in users and revenue — recently reaching the 30,000 user milestone.

"CryptoEQ is really built to be the North Star for digital asset research and information. We provide market insights for both newcomers and folks that are already well-versed in cryptocurrency and digital assets," Randall says on this week's of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The idea of the company is to help shepherd folks along and guide them on their crypto journey."

The platform, which offers both free and paid membership, has expanded to be able to offer something for everyone, despite their cryptocurrency proficiency. In fact, recently the company entered into a partnership with The Cannon, an entrepreneurial hub with locations across Houston, to provide a one-of-a-kind crypto starter pack to help onboard innovators to the cryptosphere worldwide. The new offering launches this week.

"We have a lot of roots at the Cannon — we actually started building CryptoEQ at the original location of the Cannon. So, it's really cool to come full circle and buildout a crypto starter pack with the Cannon team," Randall says.

He shares more about the state of cryptocurrency and how he's seen his company grow on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Post Oak Motor Cars now accepts Dogecoin and Bitcoin as payment. Photo courtesy of Fertitta Entertainment

Houston supercar dealer now accepting Dogecoin as payment

cryptocars

Post Oak Motor Cars is now accepting dogecoin, a cryptocurrency that recently gained new heights of popularity following support from Tesla founder Elon Musk, as a form of payment. New Bugatti, Bentley, Karma, and Rolls-Royce vehicles are sold at the boutique sales location next to Houston's only five-star hotel, The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston.

This is the second form of cryptocurrency the Houston dealership has accepted. In 2018, Post Oak Motor Cars announced that it would allow customers to pay using bitcoin after integrating cryptocurrency processor Bitpay into its payment system.

Dogecoin was created in 2013 by software engineers from IBM and Adobe. In 2014, the currency briefly passed Bitcoin and all other cryptocurrencies in trading volume. Fast forward to 2020 when a TikTok trend encouraged people to purchase dogecoin in an effort to get the value to $1. By January 2021 Musk, Gene Simmons, Snoop Dogg, and GameStop short squeeze Redditors were all in on the buying binge pushing dogecoin's value to new heights.

Buy Sport, Premium and Luxury cars with Bitcoin from Post Oak Motor Cars.www.youtube.com


In March of this year, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban announced that the team would allow the public to purchase tickets and products with the digital currency. Within two days, the Mavs had carried out over 20,000 Dogecoin transactions.

Last week, dogecoin's value was up 400 percent week-over-week, hitting an all-time high of $0.46 valuation on April 16. It is currently the fifth-highest valued cryptocurrency and its value is up 6,000 percent year-to-date. According to CNN, the total value of the dogecoins in circulation is nearly $50 billion.

Post Oak Motor Cars is owned by businessman Tilman Fertitta, CEO of Fertitta Entertainment. The billionaire is also the the chairman, CEO, and owner of Landry's, Inc. and owner of the Houston Rockets NBA team. The Rockets online shop currently allows customers to purchase items using Bitpay. Bitpay facilitates transactions for users wishing to complete a purchase using Bitcoin, Dogecoin, and other cryptocurrencies.

Buyers are currently able to buy a Tesla using Bitcoin, but despite Musk's appreciation for the brand faced by a Shiba Inu, dogecoin is not currently accepted as a form of payment.

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This article was originally run on AutomotiveMap.

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3 Houston innovators to know this week

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Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.