What started as a way to protect your company from a sketchy business partner has turned into a digital networking tool. Getty Images

Several years ago, David Grimes had a business partner who played dirty. It wasn't until the trial that followed the business wrongdoing that Grimes discovered the man had a history of cheating companies out of money. Grimes envisioned a software service that used public information to research potential investors or associates before signing on the dotted line of a partnership.

"I wanted to find a tool that would alleviate that pain and that risk of doing business," Grimes says. "I couldn't find that tool."

When Grimes met private investigator, Daniel Weiss, at a Christmas party, he picked his brain about this idea of vetting business partners or investors. Turns out, that's exactly what Weiss did already. Together, the two co-founded Houston-based Snap Diligence, a software-as-a-service company that uses its custom algorithm to digitally investigate these potential associates.

The technology would data mine various public information avenues, such as Secretary of State documentation of business owners, managers, and directors, state district court records, and insurance records. It would look at all filings and legal cases of both the person and all the companies they have been associated with. It would even look at that person's contacts and see who you have in common and who you don't know about.

Unintended technology
Now that the tool the Grimes wanted finally existed, and Snap Diligence went into beta in April of 2017. The team reached out to all ages and industries to use the software. In January of 2018, they reconvened and looked at who was using the tool and how they were using it.

"They were mostly people in their 30s," Grimes says. "I didn't think they would have enough experience with risk to appreciate the tool. But what they were using it to connect to new opportunities."

Snap Diligence allowed the users to access new business connections and potential clients based on their already established networks.

"It's not LinkedIn where you sat next to your connection four years ago at a breakfast club," Grimes says. "This is information on people who are actually involved in a business together."

A banker approached Grimes and asked him to datamine all his clients to see all the potential business he could have by finding other companies a client is involved in but that doesn't yet use the bank for.

So, with this new tool, Snap Diligence pivoted about 3 to 4 months ago and now looks at first and second degree of existing relationships for the purpose of targeting new business clients.

"We started running this customer analysis work — and we had to rework our algorithm some — to spit out this batch mining process for customers and how you expand an existing customer relationship into a new opportunity," Grimes says.

The tool has been most popular with commercial insurance and commercial banking, Grimes says. Private equity has been a big player too, although it's not as big as a proponent since they have smaller client bases.

Growth plans on the horizon
The company has a few major clients coming in, Grimes says, and also expects to be able to mine third degree connections soon too. Snap Diligence operates in several states, but as more information is able to be pulled in, the tool will soon grow to more markets.

"SEC data is something we want to add fairly quickly, as well as real estate data," Grimes says. "The key is just importing more and more data that can further fill in the picture of someone's footprint."

With growth on the mind, Grimes recognizes that Houston has with venture and talent. Both are aspects the local innovation community has but needs more of.

"We have plenty of talent here in Houston, but it's harder to find the talent that doesn't mind going into a startup with the risk that comes with it," Grimes says. "Finding the right talent is difficult."

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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.

Report: Federal funding, increased life science space drive industry growth in Houston

by the numbers

Federal funding, not venture capital, continues to be the main driver of growth in Houston’s life sciences sector, a new report suggests.

The new Houston Life Science Insight report from commercial real estate services company JLL shows Houston accounted for more than half (52.7 percent) of total funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) across major Texas markets through the third quarter of this year. NIH funding in the Houston area totaled $769.6 million for the first nine months of 2022, exceeding the five-year average by 19.3 percent.

VC funding for Houston’s life sciences sector pales in comparison.

For the first nine months of this year, companies in life sciences raised $147.3 million in VC, according to the report. Based on that figure, Houston is on pace in 2022 to meet or surpass recent life sciences VC totals for most other years except 2021. JLL describes 2021 as an “outlier” when it comes to annual VC hauls for the region’s life sciences companies.

JLL notes that “limited venture capital interest in private industry has remained a challenge for the city’s life sciences sector. Furthermore, it may persist as venture capital strategies are reevaluated and investment strategies shift toward near-term profits.”

While life sciences VC funding has a lot of ground to cover to catch up with NIH funding, there are other bright spots for the sector.

One of those bright spots is the region’s rising amount of life sciences space.

The Houston area boasts more than 2.4 million square feet of space for life sciences operations, with another 1.1 million under construction and an additional 1.5 million square feet on the drawing board, the report says. This includes a soon-to-open lab spanning 25,000 square feet in the first phase of Levit Green.

A second bright spot is the migration of life sciences companies to the region. Two Southern California-based life sciences companies, Cellipoint Bioservices and Obagi Cosmeceuticals, plan to move their headquarters and relocate more than half of their employees to The Woodlands by the first half of 2023, according to the report.

“Houston’s low tax rate and cost of living were primary drivers for the decisions, supported by a strong labor pool that creates advantages for companies’ expansion and relocation considerations,” JLL says.

Here's what Houston startups need to know about internal communications

guest column

Startup founders often focus on outward victories. However, if they look inward and get internal communications right, this can prioritize, inspire, and retain talent, which is the heart of the company.

Consistent internal communication helps employees to understand the company's core values and mission and the evolving internal policies and procedures — health care benefits, reorganizations, remote work — that accompany a young business. Investing in internal communications also supports external public relations efforts because the best company storytellers are well-informed employees.

Consider these tactics for effective internal communications.

Prioritize messaging

In any startup, internal procedures evolve as the company grows. Take control of the narrative while easing employees' minds by prioritizing internal messaging.

Whether transitioning to a more flexible work schedule, updating healthcare benefits, or rolling out a performance review process, planning messages in advance can help team members understand the change, the impact, and how they can contribute positively to the development.

Well-informed employees help mitigate uneasiness and tend to achieve business goals more quickly. Make sure to allow the employees time to reflect and react.

Support managers

Leaders and mid-level managers play an integral role in internal communications by cascading information throughout the organization. They regularly engage with their employees, so it is important that managers feel confident and supported in their communication skills.

Managers can benefit from a common company language, talking points, or communications training for more effective and productive conversations. By identifying, clarifying, and reinforcing common goals and key objectives for managers, companies can strengthen productivity and eliminate confusion, especially if the company changes teams' roles and responsibilities.

Be consistent

Make sure that the drumbeat remains steady, whether this includes a monthly town hall meeting or weekly CEO emails. Since communication is not necessarily one-size-fits-all, use a communication approach tailored to the workforce.

For example, there might be more effective communication methods than email for employees not behind a desk. As a smaller company, take that time to connect with the team directly because as the company swells, that one-on-one experience will become increasingly difficult to manage.

Listen to employees

Delivering top-down messaging that resonates with the workforce remains critical. However, internal communication is a two-way street.

Allow team members to give valuable feedback. Encourage team members to share their thoughts about the company, concerns, and how to improve communications. Issue internal surveys or hold face-to-face meetings to gain useful insight.

Understanding these critical proof points will enable more effective communication and quick action on any issues.

Be a human

Keep humanity at the heart of internal communications. Amid the company's transition, maintain transparency and recognize the emotional toll some changes can have on teammates. The best talent will remain when they feel connected, informed and listened to.

Greater employee engagement can help build a strong company culture of accountability, authenticity and communication, setting up the business for bigger success.

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Melanie Taplett is a communications and public relations consultant for the technology, energy, and manufacturing industries.