Finding funding might be harder during the pandemic. But there are some startups thinking outside the box to attain theirs. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Almost eight months in to the pandemic and many startups are still fighting to survive. Finding funding has become harder in an era the New York Times calls "The Great Unwinding." But not every startup is succumbing to a bleak fate. Some have shown unique strategies for attaining funding. Here, we'll delve into a few examples of startup companies whose founders have managed to snag funding and stay afloat amid the crashing waters of coronavirus.

Government contracts

Payam Banazadeh, CEO of Capella Space, told Graham Winfrey, senior technology editor for Inc., that it would behoove tech startups to look into acquiring government contracts if possible. His Silicon Valley-based satellite communications startup snagged a lucrative government contract with the Department of Defense. "The government seeks startups that are doing unique things. If they find a product they like, they're going to pursue it. Government contracts help raise additional funding while also de-risking companies in the eyes of investors," Banazadeh said.

Funding conversations matter

Nesh is a company based in Houston that acts as a smart assistant for the energy industry. The startup spent the pandemic engaged in conversations with potential investors. "It's easier to talk to investors at this time. We've had more conversations in the past few months than all of 2019, but nobody is willing to write checks just yet," said Sidd Gupta, founder of Nesh, to Crunchbase News, a tech startup-centric outlet.

The Houston-based company also pivoted by expanding into other oil and gas areas like renewables. Nesh even decided to make its platform accessible free of charge during the shutdown.

Take matters into your own hands

Laally is a breastfeeding assistance device company. During their funding strategizing, they examined all the usual funding avenues: VC, angels, debt, non-profit and potential partnerships with bigger entities. Most of these sources asked for proof of concept and a proven history of solid sales before even thinking of putting money on the table.

Well, that wasn't possible for founders Max and Kate Spivak. They decided to go it alone. Self-funding. "As a family and rookie entrepreneurs, we made the decision to put our money in the balance and hire a partner for the tech part of the business," Max Spivak said told Crunchbase News.

"Even when things got rough as the pandemic worsened, and they did get very rough for us, we didn't have pressure from investors to liquidate assets or investors demanding their money back. That's because we were our own funders," said Kate Spivak.

Creativity can conquer COVID-19

Sometimes adversity is the mother of creativity. These three startup founders stepped outside the box of traditional funding strategies. They discovered ways to change their companies and attain funding during a pandemic that has its foot on the neck of the economy.

Thanks to people like Sidd Gupta, Payam Banazadeh, and the Spivaks, startup founders have a better idea of what they need to do for their startups to live another day. For their companies to see a light at the end of an 8-month long tunnel. The pandemic might have our faces covered, our friends at arm's length, and our jobs in limbo. But it cannot strip away the power of human ingenuity, innovation, and creativity. The founders named above are walking proof.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Rene Cantu, the author of this piece, is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

From friends and family rounds to how to navigate a seed round, here's what you need to know about raising money in Texas. Getty Images

Here's what you need to know if you're raising a seed round in Texas

Guest column

In the vast majority of startups we've worked with across Texas, their "seed round" is not the first money in the door. That money is often called a "Friends & Family Round" and it's usually from people so close to the entrepreneurs that they are willing to take a gamble before there is really even much "there" to invest in. It also might include bootstrap funds put in by the entrepreneurs themselves.

After an F&F Round, Texas startups will pursue a "seed round," which generally includes some angel investors in the local and broader ecosystem. A problem we occasionally run into is that Texas entrepreneurs, including those in Houston, will get bad advice on what the right structures are for this kind of deal; either because they are reading a blog post from Silicon Valley (where things work VERY differently) or they're talking to someone marketing themselves as an "adviser" when their advice doesn't have much substantive deal experience backing it.

If your seed round is under $1 million, you will most likely structure it as a convertible note with a valuation cap and a 2 to 3 year maturity. Convertible notes are extremely slimmed down investment instruments that angel investors across Texas will be very familiar with. Usually, the "deal" in a convertible note round is that investors will get minimal up-front rights, in order to streamline early decision-making and keep legal costs down for negotiation, but they will get back-end protections like debt treatment if the company goes south. They will also almost always get a valuation cap and/or a discount on the price that future VCs pay, as recognition for the extra risk the seed investors are taking relative to later investors.

Once seed rounds get above $1 million, a more robust equity (stock) based investment structure starts to make more sense. There are two types of equity rounds, broadly speaking: seed equity and full VC-style equity. The latter involves a large set of heavily negotiated documents with robust investor protections, and is the structure most often utilized for a Series A (after seed). The former (seed equity) is a slimmed down version of full VC docs designed to give investors some rights, but keep negotiation costs (including legal fees) within a range that's reasonable for the smaller amount of money being raised. Investors vary as to whether they will accept simpler seed equity docs, or require you to give them full VC-style protections.

Given the diversity of investor expectations and contexts you're likely to run into in structuring a seed round, and the very high-stakes (and permanent) implications of the contracts you're going to sign, it's extremely important that advisers you work with have specialized experience in these kinds of deals.

In the case of lawyers specifically, it's also extremely important that they not have conflicts of interest with the investors you are raising money from. We too often see clever investors nudge entrepreneurs toward utilizing the investor's preferred law firm. Anyone with an ounce of honesty and experience can see why that's a problem.

Make sure you understand the high-level concepts and structures that are within the norms of your startup ecosystem, and then work with experienced, trustworthy advisors to translate everything into a deal that makes sense for your company's unique context.

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Jose Ancer is an emerging companies partner at Egan Nelson LLP. He also writes for Silicon Hills Lawyer, an internationally recognized startup/vc law blog focused on entrepreneurs located outside of Silicon Valley, including Texas.

Keep an eye out for these warning signs when looking for funding. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

5 investor red flags to look out for, according to this University of Houston expert

Houston Voices

Venture capitalists give you plenty of reason to be on the look out for investor red flags.

In The Parable of the Scorpion and the Frog, the frog entrusts the scorpion not to sting it while it helps the scorpion cross a lake. The scorpion promises not to sting the frog, reasoning that both would drown. The scorpion stung the frog anyway. As a result, both drowned. The moral of the story is that a scorpion, like any animal, is true to its nature.

Think of venture capitalists as scorpions. They are constantly trying to undermine established terms in order to either avoid a financial downside, or collect on the financial upside, even at a startup's expense. As a result, they will not think twice about screwing you over.

Venture capitalists have a clear institutional objective: if your company is successful, they collect as much money as they can based on the agreed upon terms. On the other hand, if your company falls flat on its rear, venture capitalists will look to avoid losing money. At all costs. Even if it means bending the terms of your agreement and hurting your company further.

Here are the top five red flags to look out for from a venture capitalist.

Bad terms

Firstly, there are many times when a bad investor will strong-arm a company founder into a tough deal. If the investor even hints that there will be no room for negotiation, that's a definite red flag. You have a right to negotiate certain terms and request flexibility. The best investors will want to work with you because it's unlikely they'll want a sour relationship with their investment. If your investor seems to say "no" a lot to you, how much do they really care about your company's growth?

Unpredictable behavior

Any investor that exhibits unexpected behavior is sure to give you tons of headaches down the road. Imagine after agreeing to terms, your new investor decides he or she do not want to be on your company's board all of the sudden. Either because they don't have the time or just don't want the responsibility. Instead, they would hire an executive from another company to represent their interest on your company's board. Why didn't they tell you this beforehand? Now you'll have to adjust to this sudden change of heart. Consequently, your company will have to adjust, too.

Strict monogamy

Okay, so your relationship with your investor is not a romantic one. That's exactly why it should be okay to work with other investors. If your venture capitalist tries to discourage you from doing that, it shows a glaring insecurity. Multiple investors means more money for your company. Any investor that tries to keep you from working with other investors probably does not have your startup's best interest in mind.

Rotating door of CEOs

If an investor has a history of firing founders or CEOs too fast, it could show that they do not have the patience required to allow a startup to grow. Moreover, bad investors will overreact to a missed milestone (like under-performing for a quarter) and fire a CEO. So, seek an investor that has a reputation of working with founders, even through those bumps in the road.

Dominating discussions

Lastly, any potential investor that completely dominates a discussion does not leave room for other ideas and different perspectives to be brought to the table. Your company meetings should brainstorming sessions and strategic conversations where everyone has input.

Therefore, any one-sided discussion about company operations is sure to leave a bad taste in everyone else's mouths. In short, if your discussions with a potential investor are one-way streets where they are talking way more than they are listening, what do you think board meetings will be like with them at the helm?

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Universities need to make sure all faculty who want to work with the private sector have a chance to succeed, regardless of their gender or discipline. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

UH experts weigh in on the funding gap for female researchers

Houston voices

The researchers had a hypothesis. Women faculty, they predicted, would be more successful than their male counterparts at earning private funding – from industry, from nonprofit groups, from charitable endowments. That was about relationships, after all, an area where the popular literature suggests women excel.

The numbers told a different story.

A review of faculty research funding conducted by the Center for ADVANCING Faculty Success at the University of Houston – funded by the National Science Foundation to help recruit and retain female faculty, and especially women of color, in STEM fields – found that women and men had similar success rates when competing for funding from federal agencies. With industry funding, however, the disparities were greater.

"It's about networking," says Christiane Spitzmueller, an industrial psychologist and managing director of the UH center. "Men do more of that. Women aren't primed as much for networking and self-marketing."

No one tracks the numbers nationally, and not all universities report a gender disparity. What is clear is that working with industry and nonprofit groups has drawn new attention in academia amid concerns about stagnant or dropping levels of federal research funding and increasing academic interest in finding solutions to some of society's thorniest problems. To take full advantage of the opportunities, universities need to make sure all faculty who want to work with the private sector have a chance to succeed, regardless of their gender or discipline.

Opportunity knocks

Industry needs these partnerships, too.

"Companies are realizing to be competitive, particularly in high-tech domains, they can't rely on only their internal resources," says Jeff Fortin, associate vice president for research and director of Research and Industrial Partnerships at Pennsylvania State University. "They have to look to universities and other external sources to fill that pipeline of innovation."

Some researchers are already fully engaged with industry. Others aren't interested.

Then there is the middle group. "They would like to engage more with companies," Fortin says. "They haven't done it much, and they need more help, explaining how the process works, the contracting."

His office – and those at other universities seeking to increase their interactions with the private sector – can help.

How to approach industry

Research administrators can help by developing policies for intellectual property, licensing and royalty issues that arise from academic-industry partnerships. Companies want to know how those issues will be handled upfront.

Ultimately, however, it's about the individual faculty member. And it requires persistence.

"The big thing is not to sell yourself short," says Rebecca Carrier, professor of chemical engineering at Northeastern University. "Maybe they're not going to be interested in precisely what you want to work on, but they might be interested in a variation of it."

Look for common goals. And prepare for a different type of relationship.

What to expect

Federal funding agencies generally require an annual report, with little or no interaction at other times. Not so with industry funding.

"When you're working on a project industry cares about, you may report in every six months, or conduct monthly or biweekly teleconferences. You may collaborate with their researchers. You may send your students to their site," says Elyse Rosenbaum, Melvin and Anne Louise Hassebrock Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign. Rosenbaum also is director of the Center for Advanced Electronics through Machine Learning, a National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center.

Sometimes the work is about solving a specific industry problem, whether that's high workforce turnover or limiting methane emissions on oilfield drilling rigs. Sometimes, as Samira Ali, an assistant professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, discovered with her first industry grant, the goal is more global.

Ali is directing one of three centers that are part of a $100 million, 10-year initiative from Gilead Sciences Inc. to address HIV/AIDS in the southern United States.

The payoff

Ali had never worked with industry funding, but the project was a good fit with her research interests. It also wasn't something the federal government would be likely to fund, making the partnership a pragmatic choice.

Another benefit? Carrier, who is director of the Advanced Drug Delivery Lab at Northeastern, says connecting with industry ensures she remains focused on real-world problems.

Working with the private sector is a constant reminder of the end goal – in Carrier's case, finding answers to questions about the mucosal barrier in the intestine, with an eye toward enhancing the absorption of medications and nutrients, as well as understanding links between the gut and overall health.

"It's important to stay in touch and in tune with people who are trying to make a product so that I know what I'm doing matters," she says.

The 411 in industry funding

What type of projects?

  • Short-term, often for a period of one year
  • Practical, focused on a specific product or project
  • Industry support for basic science is unusual but not unheard of

How is it different for government funding?

  • Generally less money, for a shorter period of time
  • Fewer restrictions but can require more flexibility
  • More contact, from biannual or monthly conference calls to sending researchers to work at the company, or having their researchers come to your lab
  • A new vocabulary. Terms understood to mean one thing by researchers and federal funding agencies may be used differently by industry

How to connect?

  • Network. Attend conferences that are important to the industry with which you'd like to work.
  • Educate yourself about the problems a particular industry needs to solve, and think about what solutions you may be able to offer
  • Be persistent and don't be afraid of rejection
  • Take advantage of personal connections – friends, neighbors and former classmates who work in industry may help you connect on specific projects

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Jeannie Kever works with the UH division of research as a senior media relations specialist.

Startups have more cash flow options now than ever before. Getty Images

From credit to crowdfunding, experts discuss how startup lending has evolved

Houston Voices

For companies trying to get off the ground, one of the biggest hurdles normally revolves around acquiring funding. Whether it's a friends and family round, early seed stage or a full blown series round, finding funding is a difficult process. This augments the importance of entrepreneurs understanding the full arsenal of tools at their disposal.

Late last month, Cannon Ventures and Texas Citizens Bank teamed up to host a Lunch and Learn at The Cannon's Main Campus to help describe some of the different options for fundraising and explain the evolution of fundraising over the past few years.

This Cannon Lunch and Learn consisted of a panel of industry experts from varying backgrounds answering questions from the crowd about fundraising. The session was moderated by Cannon Ventures' investment analyst, Kristen Philips, where she was joined by the below panelists:

Each of the below strategies were highlighted by our panel of experts, offering a number of potential options for entrepreneurs in search of the best fundraising strategy for their company:

Factoring

Factoring is a form of financing in which a business will sell its accounts receivable (invoices) to a third-party at a discount. This option gives businesses access to immediate funds that can be used to pay for business expenses. This can be an effective option when working with a client who has outstanding invoices and may not be able to pay you back in a timely manner.

Credit insurance

Credit Insurance protects the policyholder in the event that a customer becomes insolvent. Insolvency in business can be a more common scenario than many realize, so credit insurance can serve as a solution if a customer isn't able to pay its debts. Industry standards for credit insurance will often cover around 90 percent of your accounts receivable.

SBA loans

Contrary to popular belief, SBA loans are not direct loans made by The Small Business Administration to entrepreneurs to grow a small business. Instead, an SBA loan provides a guarantee to banks and authorized SBA lenders for the money they lend to small businesses. If a business owner defaults on a loan, the SBA will promise to pay a portion of the loan back. This can alleviate the risk associated with lending money to small business owners and startups that may not qualify for traditional loans. SBA loans open up lending opportunities to thousands of entrepreneurs. In 2017 alone, SBA approved over 68,000 loans and provided over $30 billion to small businesses.

The evolution of lending

The panelists also remarked on how the industry of traditional lending has grown over the years and suggested to be wary of new predatory lending entities. When lending entities do not use depository funds, they are not subject to the same level of regulation that more traditional establishments like banks do. Because of this, predatory lenders can offer large amounts of capital quickly but lock founders into unsustainable interest rates and mechanisms that can trap clients into long-term agreements.

It is important for founders to do their homework and understand the terms whenever you are accepting a loan regardless of how established they may seem, or your need for capital.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is a relatively new phenomenon that has started to become more mainstream after a change of regulation in 2016 by the SEC to allow non-accredited investment in private companies. Crowdfunding is typically done to supplement efforts to an offline fundraise and a way to both market your opportunity to a wider base as well as directly raise funds. These platforms offer the flexibility of either a straight equity raise or a convertible note.


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This is content from our partner, which originally ran on The Cannon.


via thecannonhouston.com

Teamwork makes the dream work, and this new investor alliance hopes to make Houston startups' dreams of seed funding come true. Getty Images

Investors join forces for citywide alliance to increase access to early-stage capital

Teamwork makes the dream work

Securing funding for your startup is now a one-stop shopping experience. Over 200 accredited investors have teamed up to create the Houston Investment Network Alliance — a platform that promotes investment opportunities and mentorship for early-stage companies.

HINA is a collaboration where participating investors can partner up to co-invest in startups, co-host investor events, and share opportunities.

Behind the alliance are four Houston investment entities: the Houston Angel Network, Rice Angel Network, GOOSE Society of Texas, and Cannon Ventures.

"HAN and the Goose Society have invested over $150M in early stage companies over the last decade. The appetite for startup investing continues to be alive and strong in Houston," says Stephanie Campbell, HAN managing director, in a release. "The birth of new groups like RAN and Cannon Ventures demonstrates a new and growing appetite for investment."

Each of the organizations have connections to Rice University and previously worked together on a sports technology-focused pitch night hosted at The Cannon, a West Houston coworking space lead by CEO and founder, Lawson Gow. Gow is the son of David Gow, owner of InnovationMap's parent company Gow Media.

The Cannon launched its own fund, Cannon Ventures, about seven months ago. It has four startup partners: SEATz, Win-Win, Data Gumbo, and SeeHerWork. Each Cannon Ventures startup partner will received anywhere between $100,000 to $400,000 of seed funding as well as access to space in The Cannon and its accelerator opportunities, Gow says.

Cannon Ventures has already also collaborated with the other HINA organizations. The Rice Angel Network is even based out The Cannon.

"We're increasingly co-investing with other angel networks," Gow says, "because it's hard to start a company and raise money, so the more we can do that to help Houston startups get the money they need."

According to Gow, Houston's thriving startup scene and deep pockets is a perfect opportunity for HINA.

"One of the great things about Houston is we've got a lot of money here," he says. "One of the most transformative things we can do for the startup community is get a lot of high-net worth individuals is get them off the bench and onto the field and activate them as regular angel investors into Houston-based startups. That's a really important goal of Cannon Ventures is to grow our membership base and get ore people involved."

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for December

where to be

This month, Houstonians have yet another good batch of in-person and online innovation events, and you and your tech network need to know about them.

Here's a roundup of virtual events not to miss this month — like pitch nights, workshops, conventions, and more.

Note: This post might be updated to add more events.


December 1 — Fall 2021 D2K Showcase

The Rice D2K Lab is a hub for data science education. In the interactive D2K Showcase, you will explore D2K students' end-of-semester projects sponsored by D2K Affiliate members, researchers and community partners. Interact with student teams in the poster session and learn more about their projects. Vote on your favorite project and team as students compete for cash prizes.

The event is on Wednesday, December 1, at 5 pm. It's free and happening at Rice University (Duncan Hall - McMurtry Auditorium). Click here to register.

December 2 — TeeMates Launch Party

Join TeeMates for happy hour in town at The Cannon's new sportstech and media location. DJ, drinks, prizes, local businesses, and golf.

The event is on Thursday, December 2, at 4 pm. It's free and happening at The Cannon Sports + Media (5353 W Alabama St. Ste 450). Click here to register.

December 3 — Thought Leader Series: A Conversation with Houston's Medical Community

The Greater Houston Partnership invites you to the Thought Leader Series: A Conversation with Houston's Medical Community. This virtual event will feature a dynamic panel discussion with some of the region's top minds working to advance health care and medicine for the future. These leaders will discuss topics ranging from the region's health care system including funding, workforce, technology/innovation, equity and living in a post-pandemic world.

The event is on Friday, December 3, at noon. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

December 5-9 — 23rd Annual World Petroleum Congress

Returning to the United States for the first time in over 30 years, the 23rd World Petroleum Congress will transform Houston into the epicenter of the global energy debate. Recognized as the energy capital of the world, the host city is home to 4,600 energy firms and a hub of technological innovation and entrepreneurship both within the energy sector and across aligned sectors. The Congress will gather together industry and government leaders from across the world to address all aspects of the industry from technological advances in upstream, midstream, and downstream operations to the role of natural gas and renewables, management of the industry and its social, economic, and environmental impact.

The event is from Sunday, December 5, through Thursday, December 9, at George R. Brown Convention center. Click here to register.

December 7 — Latest Trends & Opportunities in Sports Tech

Join DivInc on December 7th for an in depth discussion focused on trends, challenges and opportunities in this city and beyond at the intersection of sports and technology! The panel consists of subject matter experts from HTX Sports Tech, Intel, 2K, and The Cannon. We will also be sharing details and answering questions regarding upcoming Sports Tech accelerator.

The event is on Tuesday, December 7, at 4 pm. It's free and happening at The Ion (4201 Main St). Click here to register.

December 8 — Houston Veterans In Residence Showcase

Bunker Labs’ Veterans in Residence Showcase is a nationwide event spanning across twenty-two cities and 2 virtual cohorts, celebrating the almost two-hundred veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs launching their startups and businesses from our recent cohort. It gives you a chance to network with local participants. Become part of your local business community and learn how you can get involved by patronizing, investing in, or partnering up with veterans and military spouse entrepreneurs.

The event is on Wednesday, December 8, at 6 pm. It's free and happening at WeWork (The Jones Building - 708 Main St.) Click here to register.

December 8 — The Future of Energy Celebration

Join energy tech leaders right after World Petroleum Congress for drinks, live music and startups to celebrate the Future of Energy — powered by Halliburton Labs, Accenture, Greentown Labs and The Ion.

The event is on Wednesday, December 8, at 6 pm. It's free and happening at 8th Wonder Brewery (2022 Dallas St). Click here to register.

December 8 — HTXelerator's Pitch Event

The Pitch for the inaugural cohort is now upon us and you're invited to be a part of the celebration! Hear from the HTXelerator's nine finalists as they deliver a mock campaign speech for city council. Enjoy drinks and light bites in the courtyard of The Cannon Downtown as the judges crown first, second, and third place to close out the inaugural year.

The event is on Wednesday, December 8, at 7 pm. It's free and happening at The Cannon Tower @ Amegy on Main (1801 Main St). Click here to register.

December 10 — Feedback Friday: Strategy Planning for 2022

Join this session with Impact Hub Houston Board Member and startup advisor Brandy Guidry to receive feedback on your business goals for 2022.

The event is on Friday, December 10, at 1 pm. It's free and happening at The Cannon Tower @ Amegy on Main (1801 Main St). Click here to register.

December 14 — UpSkill Works Forum: New Mission, Transferable Talent: What Employers Need to Know About Hiring and Retaining Veterans

With more than 250,000 veterans in residence, Houston has the country's second highest veteran population. Veterans are a diverse, highly skilled talent population that can bring valuable experience to a workplace but can be difficult to effectively access and engage. Join the UpSkill Houston initiative, NextOp Veterans Executive Director Stephanie Drake, and area employers to learn how to attract, hire, support, and retain talented veterans in your workforce.

The event is on Tuesday, December 14, at noon. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

December 14 — gBETA Houston Fall 2021 Cohort Pitch Night

Pitch Night is a celebration of all of the current gBETA cohorts. It's an exclusive reception during which participating companies have the opportunity to pitch to an audience of entrepreneurs, mentors, investors and community members. Join either in-person or virtually for one or more Pitch Night events.

The event is on Tuesday, December 14, at 5:30 pm. It's free and happening online and at Cannon West Houston (1334 Brittmoore Rd #1327). Click here to register.

4 Houston firms land on Forbes’ list of America’s largest private companies

BIG BIZ IN H-TOWN

Some Houston-area companies have some major bragging rights. Forbes has released its new list of the country’s largest privately owned companies based on annual revenue, and five local firms land on the list. They are:

  • Car dealership group Gulf States Toyota, No. 45, $8.3 billion in annual revenue.
  • Energy company Calpine, No. 48, $8 billion in annual revenue.
  • Petroleum and petrochemical products marketer Tauber Oil, No. 61, $6.7 billion in annual revenue.
  • Casino, restaurant, and sports conglomerate Fertitta Entertainment, No. 166, $2.8 billion in annual revenue.
  • BMC Software, No. 219, $2.1 billion in annual revenue.

Elsewhere in Texas, San Antonio-based H-E-B ranks fifth on Forbes’ new list of the country’s largest privately owned companies based on annual revenue. According to Forbes, the grocery chain’s annual revenue is $32.8 billion, making it the largest private company in Texas. On its website, H-E-B reports annual sales of $32 billion.

The only other San Antonio company on the Forbes list is construction engineering company Zachry Group. It ranks 225th, with annual revenue of $2 billion.

Nearly all of the other Texas companies in the Forbes ranking are based in the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas. As well as the five Houston companies, 13 DFW companies companies show up on the list:

  • Grand Prairie-based alcohol and wine distributor Republic National Distributing, No. 25, $11.9 billion in annual revenue.
  • Dallas-based conglomerate Sammons Enterprises, No. 70, $5.8 billion in annual revenue.
  • McKinney-based roofing distributor SRS Distribution, No. 80, $5.4 billion in annual revenue.
  • Irving-based arts-and-crafts retailer Michaels, No. 81, $5.3 billion in annual revenue.
  • Dallas-based luxury retailer Neiman Marcus, No. 101, $4.7 billion in annual revenue.
  • Irving-based electrical systems and equipment maker Consolidated Electrical Distributors, No. 103, $4.6 billion in annual revenue.
  • Fort Worth-based food and beverage distributor Ben E. Keith, No. 107, $4.2 billion in annual revenue.
  • Dallas-based oil and gas explorer Hunt Consolidated, No. 113, $4 billion in annual revenue.
  • Frisco-based transportation and logistics software provider Transplace, No. 127, $3.6 billion in annual revenue.
  • Addison-based cosmetics retailer Mary Kay, No. 164, $2.8 billion in annual revenue.
  • Plano-based senior healthcare provider Golden Living, No. 178, $2.6 billion in annual revenue.
  • Dallas-based general contractor Austin Industries, No. 217, $2.1 billion in annual revenue.
  • Dallas-based transportation and logistics company Mode Transportation, No. 220, $2.1 billion in annual revenue.

One other company on the Forbes list, New Jersey-based IT company SHI International Corp., has a strong connection to Texas. Austin billionaire Thai Lee, with a net worth estimated at $4.1 billion, is co-founder, president, and CEO of SHI. The company ranks 28th on the Forbes list, with annual revenue of $11.1 billion.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Q&A: Houston entrepreneur discusses big exits, startup advice, and his new book

Featured Innovator

Jay Steinfeld is a household name — at least within Houston's growing innovation ecosystem. Steinfeld founded Blinds.com and, along with his team, grew it to a $100 million company before exiting to Home Depot in 2014. Over the past few years, Steinfeld has had time to reflect on that empire he created and recount his lessons learned in a new book.

Lead From The Core published this week, and Steinfeld took some time to answer some questions about the new book for InnovationMap. He also shares some insight into the acquisition process and advice for fellow entrepreneurs.

InnovationMap: You founded Blinds.com and exited the company to Home Depot — this is lauded as one of Houston’s big exits. What did this acquisition mean to you as a Houstonian?

Jay Steinfeld: Blinds.com ended up being far greater than what I ever believed was possible. I had no vision as to what it could become. I had no vision as to even what the internet was at the time I started. I knew nothing when I started — I didn't even know you could sell things online. So it's kind of a shock in one way, because we just started as an experiment and not to get rich or to build something massive. It was a marketing experiment and that was all, it was, we had no business plan. We didn't know what the total addressable market was. I didn't even know what a TAM was at the time. It was just an incremental step to improve my drapery shop. So now that we have developed that into by far the number one online retailer of blinds in the world and acquired by Home Depot, it's just so satisfying and so gratifying to know that all the little things that we did with all the people who were so, so much a part of it — like Daniel Cotlar, Tom Cabanski, Larry Hack, Steve Riddell, Marilyn Franks, all these people who, I mean, no one knew who we were. We were nobodies, but we were able to do something and become better than what even we believed was possible.

And that's actually the greatest thing for me — that so many people elevated themselves and either were a part of the success and felt like they were consequential in developing something that was consequential. They were a significant part of that, but they evolved along with it. And are either now still with the company prospering flourishing or they're now with other companies doing the same thing. Omair with Cart.com — starting as an accounts payable cost accountant and working his way up. And now, you know, the story there. It's amazing. So I think the fact that we were able to build these teams and do something of consequence and have people feel really good. It's not about how much money we made, but how much we really impacted ourselves and how we helped each other. And that was the key. We, we brought humanity into the workforce and show that having a culture of people first really does work. And it's not just a bunch of talk.

IM: I think when you look at some kind of growing and successful innovation ecosystems, they start with a couple companies that made it big, created a legacy and a group of successful entrepreneurs that then inspire others. Do you see Blinds.com kind of within the Houston innovation ecosystem?

JS: But I never, at the time, believed that was the case because we were within ourselves and didn't really see a responsibility or anything other than to what our own mission was. Looking back now and seeing how many people have succeeded and how other companies have used our success and even been able to get funded and to bring attention to Houston as a place where big exits can happen. That's a good feeling, but at the time I didn't really reflect on that.

IM: Your book came out this week — what did you want to accomplish with Lead From The Core?

JS: The book was originally written so that the people at Blinds.com would know what got us to where we were and would use it as the foundation for continuing what that success was all about. As I began teaching and expanding my influence throughout the community nationally, I realized that there were many entrepreneurs who could learn from the same success, the techniques, the strategies, "The Four Es" that were really the, the secret sauce of the company, the reason we were able to beat Amazon, Home Depot, and Lowe's, and why we got so much money as a result of it. I then expanded even more because people were saying, you know, I don't necessarily want to start a business, but I want, I've got an entrepreneurial bug and I want it to apply to my career. And for those people who feel stagnant and wanting to grow, these principles apply not just to a business, but to life into career trajectories. And that's been particularly satisfying because it was always about helping people become better than what they believed possible, not about the mission of Blinds.com itself. That was the mission, helping people. And now that people are re it's resonating outside the business world to any type of career, that's pretty cool. And now I realize that the audience is much broader than what my original intention was.

IM: What’s the biggest thing you want readers to take away from the book?

JS: I think if he can do it, I can do it. I think that's really it. It's not as hard as people think. I mean, it is tedious and you have to stay immensely focused, but it's a simple process. If you don't get so static in your thinking, and you're more expansive and open to possibilities — possibilities of you changing of you improving, and you're improving everybody around you — and that if you have the time and a little bit of money, then you can incrementally improve enough and fast enough that you can build something of significance too.

IM: What did you wish you had known before starting the process? 

JS: I actually wish I hadn't known any of this beforehand, or I might not have started. It's it is intensely grueling. It's not just the writing process, which in itself is hard — and the editing process, the rewrites, and the different types of editors that we've been involved with publisher — it's just the business of a book. It's it's everything. It's getting a publisher, getting editors, determining artwork for the cover and for the interior artwork, the publicity for the book who narrates it the whole process of audiobooks and rights. It's like starting a company. If you knew how hard it was going to be, you've might not have started it from the first place. So, but that's one of the things that was great about and be starting a business. I had no idea what I was doing, and I knew as much about writing a book, as I knew about starting a business. And that gave me an advantage because I didn't have bad habits. I didn't have a predetermined understanding as to what had to be in order for this to work. I would just meander through experimenting, being curious, asking for a lot of help, helping having people express themselves so I could get diverse opinions — like I did making business decisions. And that's what I want people to get from the book — that they can make these little decisions. And if it doesn't work, you stop. If it does work, you do a lot more of it. And that's what I did with the book. It's been fun. It's exactly what my "Four Es" are — experimenting, evolving, expressing, and enjoying myself.

IM: That's so meta that working on the book was like the process of what you're writing about in the book. Could you see yourself doing it again?

JS: Yeah, I've got two other book ideas — one will be a lot easier because it's not about me. It's harder to write about yourself, but writing about something else will be a lot easier. And now that I know the process, it will be so much easier. The first time is always harder. Going back to what you said about "it's kind of meta," if your core values are something, then that means that's what you do. So it shouldn't be surprising to anybody that I am experimenting and evolving and expressing and enjoying, because those are absolutely true, authentic core values for me. And therefore that means that's how I behave all the time. That's what I do every day. Not as a goal or an aspirational idea — if people can understand what is absolutely true to them and not just who they want to be, I think they'll be able to do almost anything they want.

IM: You’re involved with several companies and even have taught at Rice University. What drove you to get involved in this endeavors?

JS: Well, I'm either on board or advisory board members of five different companies, and it's a diversified group because some are in the pre-A stage and one's a public board. When I was about to step away from blinds.com, the idea was how do I keep having an active role in helping companies, but not be so active that I'm up to my eyeballs every day with the primary responsibility. I've got two in Austin, one in Chicago, one here, and then the other one's in Tampa.

The first thing I wanted to do knowing that I was going to be leaving Blinds.com was to start teaching in Houston, and this was while I was writing the book. So, it gave me an opportunity to bounce off ideas in the classes while writing and seeing what would be good to put into the book. It was like comedians going to small markets first and testing their material. That was fun, and I found that the things that I was teaching them was outside the normal courses that they were taking. I was providing that more personal introspective view while they were learning all the true skills, like evaluating markets, discounted cash flow and things like that. And that was very exciting for me to be involved there, especially with such a prestigious school like Rice. Al Donto was the one who I teach with, and he's been a great mentor and a great facilitator of that process.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.