Houston investor targets middle-market companies with new $275M fund

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 108

Gina Luna joins the Houston Innovators Podcast this week. Photo courtesy of Gina Luna

For most of Gina Luna's career, which includes two decades at JP Morgan before running her own strategic consulting firm, her bread and butter has been working with privately held, lower-middle market companies. Her latest endeavor is no different.

Luna — along with Paul Hobby, and Peter Shaper at Genesis Park — have joined forces to create GP Capital Partners, a new $275 million fund structured as a Small Business Investment Company. The fund will deploy funding into 20 to 25 companies within the region.

"The four of us just thought there was a real opportunity to bring this kind of capital to middle market companies in Houston, Texas, an the Gulf Coast region," Luna says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We have already seen, even in the relatively early days, there is a need an an opportunity to invest in great companies, and we are really excited to be doing that."

Luna explains how, in the world of financing, there's been a gap for this niche. Startups and small businesses have access to venture capital and grants, in some cases, and high-growth businesses might be able to garner private equity funding. And, as Luna knows from her time at JP Morgan, there's loans and banking. But what caught her and her partners' attention was the SBIC model, which is more akin to a private debt or equity fund, but some of the capital comes from SBA and some from private capital from limited partners.

Specifically, the new fund is targeting companies with $10 to $50 million in revenue, but are going through a transition and need funding to support the business through it.

"Ofter, their embarking on aggressive period of growth and need capital to support that, they could be making an acquisition, or it could be a transition between one generation and the next," Luna explains. "It's typically around some kind of event at some stage of the company's life that's not typically provided by a bank. ... Importantly, the owners maintain control, which is very different from a private equity situation."

In terms of deal flow, Luna explains that through her fellow partners and LPs networks, GP Capital is in a great spot to identify the right companies to invest in.

Luna is no stranger to the tech ecosystem in Houston either. After serving as chair of the Greater Houston Partnership, she was instrumental in founding Houston Exponential as the founding chair and board member. She also has supported other tech organizations as an adviser or board member, her latest appointment being with California-based media company, Roku.

She shares more on how she's seen the Houston innovation ecosystem evolve and what she looks for in supporting startups on the podcast. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Four Houston investment professionals have joined forces to create a new fund. Photos via genesis-park.com

4 Houston finance leaders announce new $275M fund for small businesses

money moves

Four Houstonians, each with decades of finance experience under their belts, have teamed up to create a new fund to support growth of startups.

Curtis Hartman, Gina Luna, Paul Hobby, and Peter Shaper have joined forces to create GP Capital Partners, a new $275 million fund structured as a Small Business Investment Company that will provide funding for privately-held, lower middle market businesses. The fund, which received its SBIC license from the U.S. Small Business Administration last month, extends the Genesis Park private investment platform.

"The types of companies with which we plan to partner are the backbone of our regional economy. They create good jobs and are poised for growth," says Curtis Hartman, principal of the fund, in a news release. "While small businesses disproportionally drive economic growth and employment, they are underserved by traditional banks and other capital providers. We are here to support and accelerate their success."

The fund, which will target companies based in Texas, as well as the Gulf Coast and southern regions of the country, will make both debt and equity investments across industries. According to the release, the fund will focus on communications, information technology, business and industrial services, and advanced and tech-enabled manufacturing — all industries the founders of the fund have expertise in.

GP Capital Partners plans to make a total of 20 to 25 investments ranging from $5 million to $20 million. In addition to the capital deployed, the four fund founders will offer their experience across private equity, private credit, banking, professional services, and as operating company executives.

"This is not a one-sided deal where we make a loan or equity investment and sit-back, simply monitoring performance. We are in this to help these companies grow, transition and succeed," says GP Capital Partners Principal Gina Luna in the release. "I love working with owners and management teams and helping them take their company to the next level. That's what we have all done for most of our careers. We know that if our partners are successful, we are successful, and that drives us every day."

Texas Monthly has a new owner. Texas Monthly/Facebook

Houston billionaire energy exec buys Texas Monthly

Media on media

For the second time in less than three years, Texas Monthly has a new owner. Randa Duncan Williams, chairman of Houston-based midstream oil and gas company, Enterprise Products Partners LP, has purchased the Austin-based magazine. The terms of the sale were not disclosed.

The magazine will become a part of Enterprise Products Company (EPCO), "a privately held company which owns interests in commercial real estate and ranching, as well as a substantial interest in Enterprise Products Partners L.P., a publicly traded midstream energy company," says a release.

"I have been an avid Texas Monthly reader since I was a teenager," says Duncan Williams, chairman of Texas Monthly, LLC, and of EPCO, in the release. "My family is delighted to provide the resources to support this iconic Texas institution which is nationally recognized for its editorial flair."

Williams is the daughter of EPP's late founder, Dan L. Duncan. She has a net worth of $6.2 billion, according to Forbes.

In TM's official statement, president Scott Brown is quoted as saying Duncan Williams wants to own the magazine "forever."

Forever may be what the magazine needs, following a tumultuous era for Texas Monthly, considered to be both a beacon of Texas culture and a shining example of long-form magazine journalism. In 2016, it was purchased from Emmis Communications by Genesis Park, a private investment firm led by Paul Hobby of the famed Houston-based Hobby family. Following that purchase, Hobby took over the role of chairman and CEO of the magazine, launching an arguably rocky tenure for Texas Monthly.

In February 2017, Hobby announced that Tim Taliaferro would be taking over the editor in chief position from Brian Sweany, a longtime TM staffer who climbed the ladder from intern in 1996 to taking the editor position following Jake Silverstein's departure for The New York Times Magazine in 2014. About a dozen notable writers left after Sweany's departure, though it's unfair to say it was a result of the masthead shakeup.

Just a few weeks into the Hobby-Taliaferro regime, journalism watchdog Columbia Journalism Review reported that Texas Monthly, a 13-time National Magazine Award winner, was going in a lifestyle direction. Reader reaction — not to mention the response from the journalism world — was swift, forcing the magazine to backpedal.

A year later, the magazine faced another misstep, this one involving Bumble and an alleged pay-for-play on social media. The somewhat salacious story also broke in the Columbia Journalism Review and eventually led to Taliaferro being moved into the newly created role of chief innovation officer. Thus began a year-long search that ended with Dan Goodgame being named editor in January 2019.

It's not breaking news to say it's an uncertain time for journalism, and Texas Monthly has clearly not survived unscathed. But hopefully Duncan Williams' purchase will help move the "national magazine of Texas" into a new era, one with a clear and bold vision.

For the sake of one of the nation's best magazines, we hope so.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Capital Factory's Texas Startup Roadshow made a pit stop in Houston to discuss investment. Photo by Tim Leviston/Getty Images

Houston still needs capital, talent, and success stories to grow its innovation ecosystem, according to a panel of experts

Show me the money

While Houston has increased its number of capital investments in startups over the recent years, there's more work to be done.

A panel of experts at Capital Factory and J.P. Morgan's Texas Startups Roadshow discussed what the city still needs if it is going to accomplish its mission of being a vibrant, successful place for innovation.

For Blair Garrou, managing director of Mercury Fund, Houston has experienced a growth in the number of opportunities for deals, but his firm can only do so much.

"There's more activity going on right now than my 20 years here — it's coming," Garrou says. "And we don't have enough capital to support it."

Garrou says out-of-Houston firms want to invest in deals here, but they don't want to lead a round — they want Mercury Fund to, and they'll follow. For Garrou, that indicates a credibility problem that needs to be addressed.

Houston Exponential is attempting to right the course on this issue with its HX Venture Fund, says Sandy Wallis, managing director. The fund of funds puts money into non-Houston VCs in hopes that those VCs turn around and invest back into Houston.

"The number one problem I'm trying to help with, which I hear a lot from entrepreneurs, is getting more venture here, Wallis, who co-founded Weathergage Capital, says. "What we're trying to do is make sure that our entrepreneurs are meeting with VCs — not just the ones HX invests in, but all the ones that get into town."

She wants to connect the dots for startups — both to visiting VCs and local corporations, which, she says, are already engaged and interested.

"You can see the fluid activation of our corporates here," Wallis says. "Those corporates are engaging directly with the innovation going on in Houston, and we have our headliner tech companies in place."

One of the things that would spir interest and investment into Houston companies is more success stories coming out of Houston, says Paul Hobby, founding partner at Genesis Park. Focusing on talent — developing leadership, recruitment, and retention — is what the city needs to get there. It has all the other ingredients, he says.

"In Houston, we have the means, the opportunity, the will, the capital, and the risk tolerance to solve our own problems," Hobby says to the crowd.

Houston has been working on developing talent and providing resources for entrepreneurs for the past couple years, and many of those accelerator and incubator programs — like Station Houston, The Cannon, Impact Hub Houston, MassChallenge Texas, etc. — have launched to serve startups.

"We probably have 12 to 15 startup development organizations all with different flavors," Garrou says. "And in doing that, we're still looking to the outside for best practices, like Capital Factory, to ask how we could do this better."

The focus on improving resources for startups will continue, he says, and even more will deliver. However, not every single effort will see success, but that's OK, Garrou says.

"All of these are grand visions that Houston has to keep building," Garrou says. "Some of that won't pan out, but the fact that it's all happening and if 50 percent is successful, then I think we've done our jobs to meet entrepreneurs where they are."

Wallis agrees — in capitalism, you can't win it all.

"Developing Houston is going to have failures and successes, and it's about failing successfully," she says.

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Houston-based health tech startup is revolutionizing patient selection for clinical trials

working smarter

On many occasions in her early career, Dr. Arti Bhosale, co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health, found herself frustrated with having to manually sift through thousands of digital files.

The documents, each containing the medical records of a patient seeking advanced treatment through a clinical trial, were always there to review — and there were always more to read.

Despite the tediousness of prescreening, which could take years, the idea of missing a patient and not giving them the opportunity to go through a potentially life-altering trial is what kept her going. The one she didn’t read could have slipped through the cracks and potentially not given someone care they needed.

“Those stories have stayed with me,” she says. “That’s why we developed Sieve.”

When standard health care is not an option, advances in medical treatment could be offered through clinical trials. But matching patients to those trials is one of the longest standing problems in the health care industry. Now with the use of new technology as of 2018, the solution to the bottleneck may be a new automated approach.

“Across the globe, more than 30 percent of clinical trials shut down as a result of not enrolling enough patients,” says Bhosale. “The remaining 80 percent never end up reaching their target enrollment and are shut down by the FDA.”

In 2020, Bhosale and her team developed Sieve Health, an AI cloud-based SaaS platform designed to automate and accelerate matching patients with clinical trials and increase access to clinical trials.

Sieve’s main goal is to reduce the administrative burden involved in matching enrollments, which in turn will accelerate the trial execution. They provide the matching for physicians, study sponsors and research sites to enhance operations for faster enrollment of the trials.

The technology mimics but automates the traditional enrollment process — reading medical notes and reviewing in the same way a human would.

“I would have loved to use something like this when I was on the front lines,” Bhosale says, who worked in clinical research for over 12 years. “Can you imagine going through 10,000 records manually? Some of the bigger hospitals have upwards of 100,000 records and you still have to manually review those charts to make sure that the patient is eligible for the trial. That process is called prescreening. It is painful.”

Because physicians wear many hats and have many clinical efforts on their plates, research tends to fall to the bottom of the to-do list. Finding 10-20 patients can take the research team on average 15-20 months to find those people — five of which end up unenrolling, she says.

“We have designed the platform so that the magic can happen in the background, and it allows the physician and research team to get a jumpstart,” she says.” They don’t have to worry about reviewing 10,000 records — they know what their efforts are going to be and will ensure that the entire database has been scanned.”

With Sieve, the team was able to help some commercial pilot programs have a curated data pool for their trials – cutting the administrative burden and time spent searching to less than a week.

Sieve is in early-stage start up mode and the commercial platform has been rolled out. Currently, the team is conducting commercial projects with different research sites and hospitals.

“Our focus now is seeing how many providers we can connect into this,” she says. “There’s a bigger pool out there who want to participate in research but don’t know where to start. That’s where Sieve is stepping in and enabling them to do this — partnering with those and other groups in the ecosystem to bring trials to wherever the physicians and the patients are.”

Arti Bhosale is the co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health. Photo courtesy of Sieve

Houston nonprofit unveils new and improved bayou cleaning vessel

litter free

For over 20 years, a nonprofit organization has hired people to clean 14 miles of bayou in Houston. And with a newly updated innovative boat, keeping Buffalo Bayou clean just got a lot more efficient.

Buffalo Bayou Partnership unveils its newest version of the Bayou-Vac this week, and it's expected to be fully operational this month. BBP Board Member Mike Garver designed both the initial model of the custom-designed and fabricated boat as well as the 2022 version. BBP's Clean & Green team — using Garver's boat — has removed around 2,000 cubic yards of trash annually, which is the equivalent of about 167 commercial dump trucks. The new and improved version is expected to make an even bigger impact.

“The Bayou-Vac is a game changer for our program,” says BBP field operations manager, Robby Robinson, in a news release. “Once up and running, we foresee being able to gain an entire workday worth of time for every offload, making us twice as efficient at clearing trash from the bayou.”

Keeping the bayou clean is important, since the water — and whatever trash its carrying — runs off into Galveston Bay, and ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico. The improvements made to the Bayou-Vac include removable dumpsters that can be easily swapped out, slid off, and attached to a dump truck. The older model included workers having to manually handle trash and debris and a secondary, land-based vacuum used to suck out the trash from onboard.

Additionally, the Bayou-Vac now has a moveable, hydraulic arm attached to the bow of the vessel that can support the weight of the 16-foot vacuum hose. Again, this task was something done manually on the previous model of the Bayou-Vac.

“BBP deeply appreciates the ingenuity of our board member Mike Garver and the generosity of Sis and Hasty Johnson and the Kinder Foundation, the funders of the new Bayou-Vac,” BBP President Anne Olson says in the release. “We also thank the Harris County Flood Control District and Port Houston for their longtime support of BBP’s Clean & Green Program.”