COVID-19 might have thrown a wrench in this health tech startup's fundraising plans, but it found a way to close an oversubscribed round anyways. Photo via Getty Images

When I wrote about fundraising early this year, I knew that I would be raising a round shortly, but had no idea I would be doing it in a changed COVID-19 world. I have experienced two unexpected recessions as an entrepreneur — in 2001 and 2008 — and each time causing huge struggles for entrepreneurs to raise funds. That is when I developed the mindset of acting like a desert rat, surviving with little help, learning to tap into the resources around you to survive and even thrive. Little did I know what was coming in March when the COVID-19 shutdown started.

Solenic Medical Inc. is a medical device company developing an innovative non-invasive treatment for infected metallic implants in the body. Using technology invented at the University of Texas Southwestern, Solenic will leverage the unique properties of alternating magnetic fields generated from external coils to eradicate biofilm on the surface of medical implants.

This non-invasive treatment addresses a major complication of various surgeries, such as knee and hip replacements, as well as in trauma related implants such as plates and rods. There are certainly challenges to fundraising for medical device companies, but each technology arena has its own challenges that I won't go into here.

The Solenic Medical team knew we needed to raise a round early this year, building upon the progress achieved since our founding investment in early 2019. The question was what type and size a round to raise.

We knew we were close to taking some valuable steps, but needed a just a little more time and funding to get there, at which point we figured we would be able to step up our valuation greatly. We decided on a modest $500,000 convertible note round, to help us accomplish at least a portion of the following items:

  • Recruit a reputable outside board member
  • Complete a planned large animal study stepping up from previous mice studies
  • Complete submission of a Breakthrough Device application to the FDA
  • Close our $1.3 million NIH grant and/or other non-dilutive funding
  • Fine tune simulation approaches to optimize the transducer design
  • File new intellectual property

We knew that some combination of these would occur in the succeeding months and would make it easier for Solenic to raise further funds.

The first domino was the on-boarding of an experienced technology executive from Virginia to join our board. The large animal study was delayed when the COVID-19 shutdown started, but our Breakthrough application and the grant application review started as the team went into virtual work mode. Progress was made on the simulations and drafting our next patent. The dominos were starting to fall in spite of the shutdown.

My philosophy was to treat the round as five different type of efforts, in pretty much five equal portions.

  • The first 20 percent in a round is always the hardest, even in closely held friends and family round. The first check regardless of size is always hard as often investors very interested in the round will wait for others to move first.
  • The second 20 percent is not much easier, still requiring a leap of faith by the investor.
  • The magic starts happening at 40 percent, where momentum picks up as you approach halfway and beyond.
  • At 60 percent you reach real momentum, where those investors who may have been waiting to move for a while now start moving.
  • At 80 percent you pick up investors who move quickly worried about missing out before the round closes.
  • With luck, you get enough momentum to oversubscribe the round and have to make the call to go beyond your target funds. For a quick hint on where I standard at that point, there's a saying that you never turn down money.

It was strange picking up the fundraising activity via zoom meetings, and it got off to a slow start as the initial circumstances of the new COVID-19 world settled in. Following my own advice from the January article, I started strategizing my communications, who might be the first check and first movers in first 20 percent, then the next 20 percent and so forth. For a friends and family round you start with your board as champions for the round, founders and management. No one is likely to be more committed and likely to get things started generally, much less in unusual financial times like a pandemic shutdown.

With an institutional co-founder like VIC Technology Venture Development and a passionate board we were able to jumpstart the round the round with $110,000 in commitments. This was quickly followed $100,000 from friends and family of board or management team members. Note that "quickly" in a pandemic was three months that in normal times might have taken only a month or so. Now that we had crossed that magic 40 percent hurdle, things started picking up speed, where members of the VIC Investor Network added individual investments totaling $140,000 to pass the next hurdle of 60 percent within another six weeks of individual presentations and discussions.

Momentum accelerated with friends and family and management team members stepping up to get us to 80 percent within few weeks. At the time of this article we are over-subscribed with more decisions to come. That is a great problem to have as things really picked up speed recently.

Though the final tally is to be determined the mix for this friends and family round looks to be pretty typical to past experiences

  • Board & Management – 27 percent
  • Family – 27 percent
  • Friends – 22 percent
  • Others – 25 percent

Because of the shutdown, this pandemic round has been unusual and at times frustrating, with some highly vocal and interested prospects going strangely silent as soon as the shutdown started, while others moved more slowly than originally expected. Regardless of how things transpired, it turned out largely familiar. As usual, the people you know the best and that know and trust you the most are the ones that are mostly likely come through for you. Building your network to increase the size of that pool is what you do far before a round starts.

Later rounds will be quite different, but the same 20 percent momentum stages will apply. It's a matter of building and nurturing a network of prospects in advance. Larger rounds involve an "institutional" friends and family network that you have known for a while. That work begins long before you start developing them as prospect for an open investment round. By the time this article is published, we expect to have the final funds of this round in the bank but have already started building relationships for the next round. It never stops, but in some ways that is the fun part of it to meet new people to share your startup's story.

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James Y. Lancaster is the Texas branch manager for Arkansas-based VIC Technology Venture Development and interim CEO for Solenic Medical. Lancaster, who lives in College Station, oversees business there, in Dallas, and in Houston.

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

How Houston startups can find funding in the age of coronavirus

Houston voices

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 debt and equity funds to crowdfunding and angel investment, here's what you need to know about the fundraising world from an expert who's in it. Getty Images

Houston entrepreneur gives his advice on navigating the evolving fundraising process

know before you grow

New businesses face many challenges when getting started, but perhaps none are as challenging and intimidating as how to secure the funding needed to start and grow your business.

Funding options have evolved considerably over the past several years, providing business owners with more choices than ever to fund their business. Founders should not just think about selecting one option but how to combine multiple options into a funding strategy that best suits their business needs.

Over 600,000 new businesses are started in the United States each year, and even with more fundraising options, we are increasingly seeing businesses struggle to get funded, so businesses need to be smart about putting together a funding strategy.

The traditional way to fund a business
With that piece of advice out of the way, there are two primary categories of capital: debt and equity. For your business, debt options may include personal loans, business loans, asset-based loans, revenue participation notes and factoring (where you sell your receivables at a discount in order to collect cash now).

Debt is great as it means you're not giving away equity, but, at the same time, the loan must eventually be paid back (with interest) and some businesses such as technology start-ups may not generate the cash flow needed to make this happen from day one. Loans can also be difficult to access or may require the business owner to put up a personal guarantee, although there are organizations that facilitate this such as Small Business Association. If this is the best route for your business, take the time to find the right lending organization.

Equity options include common stock and preferred stock, as well as convertible note instruments that are initially treated as debt but "convert" to equity at a future financing event. Unlike traditional equity, convertible note instruments allow you to delay establishing a valuation for your business, which can be challenging for startups. SAFE (Simple Agreement for Future Equity) and KISS (Keep It Simple Securities) Notes are emerging securities which are less frequent but are seen as more Founder friendly and are similar in some ways to convertible notes.

There are a lot of business owners that are cautious of giving away equity (and rightly so) but with the right advice on structuring securities and valuation, this can be a great source of capital, as well as knowledge and support if you find the right investors and partners.

Sources of funding for both debt and equity include friends, family, banks, angel investors, venture capital, private equity, and organizations such as the Small Business Association. The accessibility of these various options will depend on the maturity of your business, your industry and the needs of your company. Often, early-stage companies may source "seed" funding from friends, family, and angel investors, while venture capital, private equity, and debt become increasingly accessible at later stages as revenues grow.

How is funding changing?
Options for funding a business and investing have evolved considerably in recent years. Crowdsourcing, which can be defined as the process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, has taken the world by storm. Companies such as Uber, AirBnb, and Grubhub all leverage "the crowd" to provide a service.

Crowdsourcing has made its way to finance as well, where companies such as GoFundMe and KickStarter have provided new tools to fund charitable causes and projects. The Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act) of 2012 set in motion a series of regulatory changes that allowed anybody (not just high wealth individuals) to invest in private businesses and provided crowdfunding as an option to raise capital for small businesses.

Online crowdfunding portals such as LetsLaunch, SeedInvest, and WeFunder offer both debt and equity options for investors to invest in your business. Not only can this be a great way to build up a loyal customer base, test your product and get some great marketing exposure but it can also be a great way to supplement the traditional funding strategies mentioned above.

However you choose to fund your business, take the time to work through the options (both traditional and emerging) and find the right option or combination of options to meet your business needs.

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Nick Carnrite is managing director of Carnrite Group and co-founder and CEO of LetsLaunch.

LetsLaunch, a new Houston-based fundraising platform, helps companies of all sizes get funding from any type of investor. Courtesy of LetsLaunch

Houston fundraising platform launches for the next generation of investors

Future funders

Millennials are expected to exceed the Baby Boomer generation for the United States' largest living adult generation this year, and this massive population of people have a completely different approach to investing.

Nick Carnrite saw that Millennials were to a point where they had extra income, but when he looked at the statistics, he noticed they aren't buying houses for the most part and were turned off of the stock market. There was a huge amount of stranded capital, and he wanted to figure out how to get that invested into businesses.

"The younger generation isn't interested in typical investing, but they are absolutely interested in supporting their community and the businesses in it, especially if the investment lets them experience the business and come along for the ride if it works," Carnrite, who is the co-founder and CEO of LetsLaunch, says.

Houston-based LetsLaunch is a new investment platform that launched December 28, though has been in the works since January 2018. The site works, in many ways, like a crowdfunding site, only investors receive equity. Due to regulations, investment campaigns max out at around a million dollars.

In the past, entrepreneurs have had to seek out major investors through venture capitalists or large funds, since taking smaller investments is tedious and almost more trouble than its worth. However, LetsLaunch provides a platform where smaller investments are streamlined and encouraged.

"Our goal in all of this is just to take a complicated process and make it simple, the same way Turbotax takes something awful like taxes and makes it simple, we are trying to do that with investing," Carnrite says.

Investors don't have to be accredited or invest a certain amount of money — something that for so long has hindered startups' ability to raise money.

"For whatever reason, we've decided to alienate about 95 percent of Americans as far as being able to invest in private businesses," Carnrite says. "Finally, we're at the point where all of that capital that was stranded and not allowed in private companies is being funneled into that cause."

According to Carnrite and his associate, Rhian Davies, who is the company's director of business operations, the mission is to educate and simplify the investing process.

"For us, one of the things we're working on with other organizations is putting together a next-gen investor series, where we are teaching the next generation of investors how to invest and give them a platform to do it," Davies says.

Much like in a normal investment process, the companies provide a pitch deck for potential investors that outlines the business plan and scope of the company. The company simply creates an account and uses the website to develop those materials.

"We standardize that process, so from a user standpoint, everything looks fairly similar on our site and it's a pretty tried and true template," Carnrite says.

While LetsLaunch does its due diligence making sure the business is legitimate and makes sure the pitch deck is sufficient, the investors take it from there.

Since ease of access to funds is the top priority for LetsLaunch, the investment platform has a much lower fee for companies. While some crowdfunding platforms take 10 to 12 percent, LetsLaunch's fee is around 3 percent.

"We really want it to be simple and affordable to businesses and for investors as well," Davies says. "We maintain a much lower fee than other crowdfunding sites."

LetsLaunch will continue to fine tune its existing features on the site, while also adding more tools for businesses, including an iOS mobile app, which Carnirite says will be ready this year. In addition to fundraising tools, Carnrite wants to help their businesses after the campaigns with software that streamlines investor relations and reminds business owners of important deadlines.

"We want to evolve into a website that not only helps you raise capital for a company, but that also helps you run that company after your raise, Carnrite says."

While Houston is home base for the company, the team expects to expand to other markets where fundraising is hard, like Denver, Atlanta, Dallas, and more. Strategic partnerships are another opportunity for LetsLaunch, and the company expects to finalize some of those moving forward.

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Houston tops list of most popular destinations for movers in U.S.

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Houston has moved up in Penske Truck Rental’s annual ranking of the country’s most popular moving destinations.

In 2021, Houston ranked first among the hottest U.S. moving destinations, Penske says. That’s up from the No. 6 position in 2020.

“It’s not hard to see why Houston is an attractive city for many people. A booming job market combined with low cost of living and sunny weather year-round make Houston a great choice for building a life and raising a family,” says Life Storage, an operator of self-storage facilities.

From 2020 to 2021, the Houston metro area gained 78,220 residents, putting it in third place for numeric population growth among U.S. metros (behind Dallas-Fort Worth and Phoenix, and just ahead of Austin).

Houston shares the Penske top 10 with three other places in Texas:

  • Sixth-ranked San Antonio, up from No. 9 the previous year.
  • Seventh-ranked Dallas, up from No. 8 the previous year.
  • Ninth-ranked Austin, down from No. 4 the previous year.

Penske compiles the annual list by analyzing one-way consumer truck rental reservations made over a 12-month span.

Houston and its big-city counterparts in Texas continue to see their populations swell for a number of reasons, including warm weather, no state income tax, relatively low housing costs, and plentiful job opportunities. From 2010 to 2020, Texas posted the third largest population increase (15.9 percent) among the states, with Utah ranked first and Idaho ranked second, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“There are lots of places in America with jobs and lower climate risks or jobs and racial diversity, but if you want all three, Texas will take care of you best,” The New York Times noted in 2021.

U-Haul, another provider of moving trucks, ranked Texas as the No. 1 destination for DIY movers in 2021.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Pearland to open innovation-focused hub to support local entrepreneurs

coming soon

Entrepreneurs in the Pearland area have a new resource to help them grow their businesses.

The Pearland Economic Development Corp. has launched the Pearland Innovation Hub, aimed at connecting small businesses with programs and services that are designed to contribute to their success.

The Pearland Innovation Hub is managed through a partnership between the Pearland Economic Development Corp. and The Cannon, a Houston-area business networking community for entrepreneurs, investors, and corporate innovators. For now, the hub does not officially have a physical space. The hub is welcoming the local community to their launch party Thursday, May 19, at BAKFISH Brewing.

The Cannon hired Brandy Guidry to run the Pearland hub. She has more than 17 years of experience in business operations; engineering; technical marketing; innovation; and strategic planning, project, and program management.

Among the hub’s offerings are business-plan competitions, business coaching, networking, and programs.

Guidry’s office is at the Pearland Chamber of Commerce. “We can have small gatherings here,” she says. “Our focus is to have as many events at local venues to help promote and patronize the local business owners.”

Pearland Mayor Kevin Cole says in a news release that the hub will “serve to establish Pearland as a community known for innovation and entrepreneurship and where emerging companies want to locate.”

“The Pearland Innovation Hub is a groundbreaking initiative to support existing and aspiring small business owners,” Guidry adds.

A launch party for the Pearland Innovation Hub is scheduled for 5 pm May 19 at Pearland’s Bakfish Brewing Co., 1231 Broadway St.

Pearland Prosperity’s Community Strategic Plan recommended establishment of a hub for entrepreneurship and small business assistance. In April 2021, the economic development corporation’s board set in motion the creation of the hub. Seven months later, the Pearland City Council approved a three-year, $927,000 contract with The Cannon to operate the hub.

Members of the hub’s advisory board are:

  • Matt Buchanan, president of the Pearland Economic Development Corp.
  • Mona Chavarria, owner of A&A Cleaning.
  • Bill Jackson, founder and CEO of Base Pair Biotechnologies.
  • Jim Johnson, president and CEO of the Pearland Chamber of Commerce.
  • Randeep Nambiar, a board member of the Pearland Economic Development Corp.
  • HR consultant Ann Strouhal.

During the hub’s first year or two, it’ll be run through the economic development corporation. But the plan is to eventually transition the hub to its own nonprofit organization that will enter a contractual relationship with the economic development corporation.

Other than the Pearland Economic Development Corp. and The Cannon, the hub’s partners include the City of Pearland, the Pearland Chamber of Commerce, and San Jacinto Community College’s Small Business Development Center.

Brandy Guidry is the Pearland Navigator with The Cannon. Photo via pearlandinnovationhub.com

Houston expert: How to avoid unintentional plagiarism in your research work

houston voices

Plagiarism is the use of someone else’s words, ideas, or visuals as if they were your original work. Unintentional plagiarism is plagiarism that results from the disregard for proper scholarly procedures. It’s much easier to commit than one would think, and it has toppled giants in the research enterprise.

From 2007-2020, the National Science Foundation made 200 research misconduct findings, of which 78 percent were related to plagiarism. Here are some do’s and don’ts that will help you avoid unintended plagiarism, a potentially career-killing misstep.

The dos and don'ts

Don’t paraphrase without citing

According to a study of 63,700 students, Rutgers University Business School found that 36% of undergraduates admit to “paraphrasing/copying few sentences from Internet source without footnoting it.”

Don’t forget to add the quotation marks

And don’t forget to properly cite your sources at the end of the paper even if you used any in-text or footnote citations to give proper credit to the primary author.

Don’t copy and paste placeholders

You mean to go back and rewrite it in your own words but are liable to forget or run out of time. (More on this later.) If you copy and paste from a previously published paper of your own, it’s not research misconduct, but it is considered bad practice if you don’t cite it. This is called self-plagiarism.

Do make sure your hypothesis or subject is your own

Plagiarism of ideas occurs when a researcher appropriates an idea, such as a theory or conclusion — whole or in part — without giving credit to its originator. Acknowledge all sources!

Peer review is supposed to be confidential, and colleagues put their trust in each other during this process, assuming there will be no theft of ideas. Once the paper is published in a peer-reviewed journal, it should be cited.

Do use direct quotes

But quoted material should not make up more than 10 percent of the entire article.

Failure to use your own “voice” or “tone” is also considered plagiarism, or could be construed as plagiarizing, depending on how unique the author’s voice is. When there is an excessively unique turn of phrase, use quotation marks and cite (if in doubt.)

When paraphrasing, the syntax should be different enough to be considered your own words. This is tricky because you need to understand the primary work in its original language in order to reword it without just moving words around. In other words, no shuffling words!

Do cite facts widely acknowledged to be true (just in case!)

If it’s something that is generally held within your discipline to be true, or it’s a fact that can be easily looked up – like the year a state passed a certain law – there’s no need to cite “Google” or any generic platform, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Someone reading your work might not have a background in your discipline.

Do run your paper through a plagiarism-detecting tool

Some options are www.turnitin.com or http://www.ithenticate.com.

Sanctions

There are consequences for plagiarizing another’s work. If you’re a faculty member, the sanctions could affect your career. For instance, according to retractionwatch.com, a prominent researcher and university leader was recently found to have engaged in misconduct. Terry Magnuson was accused, and later admitted to, plagiarizing unintentionally.

In an open letter to his university colleagues, Magnuson wrote a startlingly candid statement: “You cannot write a grant spending 30 minutes writing and then shifting to deal with the daily crises and responsibilities of a senior leadership position in the university, only to get back to the grant when you find another 30 minutes free.”

He goes on to say: “I made a mistake in the course of fleshing out some technical details of the proposed methodology. I used pieces of text from two equipment vendor websites and a publicly available online article. I inserted them into my document as placeholders with the intention of reworking the two areas where the techniques —which are routine work in our lab — were discussed. While switching between tasks and coming back to the proposal, I lost track of my editing and failed to rework the text or cite the sources.” Taking responsibility for this oversight, he resigned.

And that brings us to the Big Idea…

The Big Idea

The one thing that trips up even the most seasoned writers is having enough time to properly cite all one’s sources. Give yourself a few extra days (weeks?) to finish your paper and have a peer read it over with any questionable facts or quotes that might need to be cited more appropriately.

Funding agencies take plagiarism very seriously. For instance, the NSF provides prevention strategies by implementing a pre-submission process, and is also attempting to make plagiarism detection software available.

You also may want to take advantage of resources in your university’s library or writing center. There are also several tools to help you organize your citations; one called RefWorks will keep track of your sources as you write in-text citations or footnotes.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Sarah Hill, the author of this piece, is the communications manager for the UH Division of Research. It's based on a workshop given by Penny Maher and Laura Gutierrez at the University of Houston; Senior Research Compliance Specialists at the University of Houston.