GOOSE Society of Texas has invested in a chemical sensor company from Austin. Pexels

A Houston-based investment group has announced funding for a startup out of Austin that has the potential to disrupt multiple industries with its chemical sensor device.

GOOSE Society of Texas, a group of investors that invest over $50 million into early stage startups, led the $2.6 million round for Lantha Inc. The startup plans to use the funds for finalizing its commercial products, strategic hires, and expand its intellectual property. The device Lantha has created can detect solid-state chemicals, which can be used in a myriad of industries from pharmaceuticals and oil and gas to water and defense.

Jeff Smisek, former United Airlines CEO and founder of investment firm Flight Partners Management LLC, was the GOOSE investor to lead the deal. According to a news release, he will join Lantha's board of directors.

"Lantha is a great example of the GOOSE Society's investment thesis — a company with proprietary and disruptive technology, low capital costs, large addressable markets, speedy product development and high margins which can benefit from the vast experience and contacts of the GOOSE Society's investors," Smisek says in the release. "We are proud to lead this financing and look forward to working closely with Lantha's management and world class scientists as they build a powerhouse in the field-based chemical analysis market."

Simon Humphrey, associate professor of chemistry at the University of Texas, invented the handheld device that is faster, cheaper, and easier to use than traditional tools. Humphrey serves as CTO for the company, and Robert Toker is the CEO and chairman of Lantha.

"We have world class scientists, who are the inventors of our technology, and a strong founding team, and we've attracted a great group of investors led by Jeff Smisek and the GOOSE Society in Houston as well as several prominent investors associated with the University of Texas at Austin," Toker says. "... Partnering with GOOSE has materially improved our chances of success."

The Lantha investment represents the first time GOOSE has funded technology coming out of UT.

"We are excited about expanding GOOSE's investment efforts to UT and look forward to future collaborations and deals," says Samantha Lewis, director at GOOSE. Several high-profile investors from the UT community invested in Lantha's Series A Preferred Stock alongside GOOSE investors.

At Houston Exponential's second annual HX Capital Summit, four Houston entrepreneurs turned investors discussed their lessons learned. Getty Images

Here's what startups can learn from Houston exits

Success stories

One way to evaluate a city's innovation ecosystem is by the number of successful exits they've had. From startups being acquired by big companies to bringing in a private equity partner, exits can put a city on the map.

Houston has quite a few exits under its belt, and some of those entrepreneurs have stayed in town to fund future success stories. At Houston Exponential's second annual HX Capital Summit, four entrepreneurs discussed their exits, providing key lessons learned for entrepreneurs.

Houston has some perks. 

One thing moderator Samantha Lewis, director at the GOOSE Society of Texas, asked each panelist was what made each entrepreneur start their companies in Houston — and furthermore, what made them stay here after their successful exit.

Panelist Ashok Gowda co-founded and served as COO at Visualase Inc., a real-time tissue monitoring system that exited to Medtronic for over $100 million. He now leads Biotex, a Houston-based medical technology investment firm and accelerator, as president and CEO.

For Gowda, Houston was obviously a key market for med tech, but it provided something even more once he reached the commercialization phase of a product.

"From a commercial standpoint, once the technology became commercial, it was an ideal location," Gowda says. "We were traveling all across the US, and it was a nice hub. We're right in the center of the country, and you can get to either coast very quickly."

The panel also agreed that the quality of life in Houston played a major role in settling down.

You might need to rethink your executive team. 

The panel full of venture capitalists of course touched on the ability to fundraise in Houston, as each panelist had been on both sides of the table. For Gowda, it's pretty simple.

"If you're struggling to raise money, you either have a bad idea or the wrong team," he says, adding that if you really believe in your idea, take a good hard look at who's at the leadership level of your team.

Talent is still a challenge in Houston.

Of course, if you do identify a problem within your team, finding the right leader for your technology might be difficult in Houston.

Keith Kreuer, who was also on the panel, is principal at RedHouse Associates, a group of angel investors that invest like a find would, but without having a fund. Between Kreuer and his team, they were involved in 10 startups before forming the investment group.

"We could find developer and sales talent here, but to get to that higher executive talent, we had to go out to other places," Kreuer says.

However, not all of the panelists agreed that talent was a major challenge they faced. Some noted that they got lucky with the talent they found.

Don Kendall, CEO of Kenmont Capital Partners, came to Houston to run a power company and family office. He turned $100,000 into $1.6 billion and now is a member of GOOSE.

"We had no problem getting the engineering talent," Kendall says. "We really found Houston to be a good environment, and it's only just continued to improve."

Playing to Houston's strengths might be key to success.

For Gray Hall, managing director at Austin-based BuildGroup, which focuses on writing big checks to a small amount of software startups, he knew how to play to his company's and Houston's strengths.

Hall previously served as CEO of AlertLogic, which had a private equity exit in 2013, and Hall stayed on until 2018 as the company continued to grow. He also co-founded Veracenter, which had a strategic exit after growing to $80 million in annual revenue.

"The common theme across both companies and why we were able to grow is real simple: Customer and people," Hall says.

Houston might be one of the country's best kept secrets when it comes to midmarket activity, Hall notes — midmarket companies being defined as those with $50 million to $1 billion in revenue.

"What Houston doesn't get enough credit for is the midmarket in Houston, which I think is tremendous," Hall says. "It's as strong as anywhere else in the country."

AlertLogic was able to tap into this midmarket to quickly grow its client base.

Something else that differentiates Houston from other cities is its culture, which is less focused on the glitz and glam and more focused on hard work.

"Engage with people that have a credible story and a credible plan to solve a problem," he says.

Houston is growing. 

One thing each of the entrepreneurs agreed on is that the city is only growing its resources and quality of startups.

"I see Houston as sort of a startup in the startup world," Kreuer says. "And, what we're trying to do is grow and catch up to the West Coast and the East Coast, but I think Texas as a whole is going to be pretty powerful, and Houston is going to be a central part of that mainly because we have the markets here, and the people in the area and the talent to do that."

As Houston's success stories become more frequent, this provides an avenue for more entrepreneurs turned investors.

"When you've done it before, you've learned the lessons, and you feel like you can do it again and again," Gowda says. "That's what we're trying to do. You see all the possibilities here."

Syzygy Plasmonics, which is creating a cleaner energy source that runs on hydrogen, closed a $5.8 million round. Photo via plasmonics.tech

Houston clean energy company closes $5.8M Series A and prepares to revolutionize the industry

Game changer

A Houston technology company is doing something that, for many decades, wasn't thought to be possible. Syzygy Plasmonics is creating a hydrogen fuel cell technology that produces a cheaper source of energy that releases fewer carbon emissions.

The hydrogen-fueled technology originated out of research done over two decades by two Rice University professors, Naomi Halas and Peter Nordlander.

"There are rules in chemical engineering, and you can't break them, but we follow them in a different way," CEO Trevor Best tells InnovationMap. "What we're doing is fundamentally different. We're using light instead of heat to drive chemical reactions."

Syzygy's technology is structured more like a battery than that of a combustion engine. Inside the technology, there are cells, lights, and mirrors making as bright as possible, which then spurs a reaction that creates energy. It has the potential to be cheaper — it's made with cheaper materials — and, of course, cleaner than traditional fueling technology with fewer carbon emissions released.

This new photocatalytic chemical reactor has the potential to shake up the industrial gas, chemical, and energy industries — something that hasn't gone unnoticed by investors. Syzygy just closed a $5.8 million Series A round led by MIT's The Engine and Houston-based The GOOSE Society of Texas. Evok Innovations, a previous investor in the company, and angel investors from the Creative Destruction Lab also contributed to the round.

The funds will allow for Syzygy to continue to develop its technology and grow its team. Best tells InnovationMap that he expects to launch a full-size pilot by the end of 2020 and is already in talks with potential clients who are interested in the technology for industrial purposes.

"We're starting to solidify relationships and get customers ready," Best says.

Earlier this year, the company also received funding from the Department of Energy and from the National Science Foundation SBIR Program. The DOE tasked Syzygy with creating a reactor that transforms ammonia into hydrogen for fueling purposes. For the SBIR Program, the company is creating a reactor that processes carbon dioxide.

The winner of the Rice Business Plan Competition walked away with over $700,000 in prizes. Courtesy of Rice University

Rice University startup competition awards record $2.9 million in prizes

Big checks

On Saturday, over 20 organizations were prepared to write checks to entrepreneurs competing in the Rice Business Plan Competition, but the largest and richest student business plan competition doled out almost double what it initially intended to award.

Earlier this year, Rice University announced the 42 teams that would be competing for $1.5 million in prizes, but ended up giving out a record $2.9 million. While a few organizations announced they had trouble picking a single company and named two recipients, Houston-based GOOSE Society surprised everyone with almost $1 million in unexpected prizes.

"It shows the diversity in expertise and interest of our investors, and how much the quality of the deals grown at RBPC," says Samantha Lewis, director at GOOSE.

GOOSE, which is a network of investors, originally intended to provide the grand prize — a $350,000 check to the company with the top score from the judges. The 2019 grand prize winner was Vita Inclinata Technologies, a company from the Mitchell Hamline School of Law that created a technology to advance helicopter safety. On top of that, GOOSE investors tacked on five more prizes.

  • $300,000 to Resonado, a more efficient speaker design company, from the University of Notre Dame
  • $200,000 to Rhaeos, a medical device company that has a wearable sensor for neurosurgical patients, from the Northwestern University
  • $200,000 to spotLESS Materials, a company that created a repellant coating material, from Penn State University
  • $125,000 to CataLight, a more sustainable water filtration system company, from the University of Waterloo
  • $100,000 to BrewBike, a campus bike delivery concept, from Northwestern University and the University of Chicago

GOOSE has surprised the crowd before at past RBPC awards banquets, Lewis says, but that's usually been one or two extra prizes. This is the first year the organization has committed this much — and there's potential for these companies to receive even more.

The group now begins is true due diligence process, Lewis says, and depending on what they find, they could invest more. The 2017 winner, Pennsylvania-based Forest Devices Inc., was awarded GOOSE's $300,000 grand prize, but the company eventually received a $2 million investment instead.

Two Houston-based student teams competed in the program, but neither were named even semifinalists. Curenav from University of Houston didn't receive any prize money, but Rice's LilySpec received the $25,000 Pearland Economic Development Spirit of Entrepreneurship Prize as well as the $1,000 Mercury Fund prize and the $1,000 Orrick Awards Banquet Company Showcase Prize.

The 19th annual contest named seven finalists according to the judges' top scores — all receiving over $100,000 in prizes each.

  • First place: Vita Inclinata Technologies (won a total value of nearly $700,000)
  • Second place: Resonado (won more than $300,000 )
  • Third place: spotLESS Materials (won more than $360,000)
  • Fourth place: Rhaeos (won more than $450,000)
  • Fifth place: Zilper Trenchless, which developed a way to install pipes under streets with minimum effect on the surface, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (won more than $435,000)
  • Sixth place: BrewBike (won more than $100,000)
  • Seventh place: CataLight (won more than $140,000)
From pitch competitions to panels, here's how Houstonians will be representing at SXSW. Marie Ketring/via sxsw.org

10 can't-miss events at SXSW featuring Houston speakers

South by the Bayou

Plenty of Houstonians, SXSW badge in hand, will be headed to Austin to network, learn, and share the stage with the rest of the festivals attendees. While InnovationMap has highlighted a few of the faces to be on the lookout for this weekend, here's a roundup of 10 events that have a Houston speaker or participant.

3/8 — Featured Session: Opening Speaker, Brené Brown

SXSW is starting right out of the gate with a Houstonian. Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, will be the keynote address. Her thoughtful talk will focus on community and one's sense of belonging.

The SXSW keynote address will be at 11 am on Friday, March 8, at the Austin Convention Center. Learn more.

3/8 — Hysteria No More: Data, Doctors and Women’s Health

Gone are the days that medical professionals dismiss women's health concerns as "hysteria," but there's still room for improvement on the matter. Three ob/gyns will talk about new ways women are finding health care solutions outside the doctor's office.

Rashmi Kudesia, physician at CCRM Fertility Houston, is one of the panelists, which occurs on Friday, March 8, at the JW Marriott. Learn more.

3/8 — Equitable Growth Ecosystems for Entrepreneurs panel

The country has an equity problem — especially when it comes to startups and funding. Nationally, venture capital funds are not distributed in a way that represents the populations diversity, so how does the industry right the course?

Grace Rodriguez of Impact Hub Houston is among the panel that will discuss this at 3:30 pm on Friday, March 8, at the Hilton Austin Downtown. Learn more.

3/9 — Austinpreneur: The Texas Startup Manifesto

Texas is among the growing innovation ecosystems in the world, but there's plenty of untapped potential. This Capital Factory panel will focus on taking Texas to the next level.

Lawson Gow, founder and CEO of The Cannon, will be a panelist at the event, which begins at 11 am on Saturday, March 9, at the Hilton Austin Downtown. Learn more.

3/9 — Startup Funding: From Apprenticeships to Professions

Venture capitalism has changed tenfold since its start. Looking back on the history of early stage funding can help predict where it's going — from Silicon Valley to every corner of the world.

Station Houston CEO Gabriella Rowe is on the panel, which will take place at 12:30 pm on Saturday, March 9, at the Hilton Austin Downtown. Learn more.

3/9 — Making the Fight Against Cancer Even More Personal

No one loves discussing cancer, but there's a large group of scientists who have to daily and they develop new technologies and innovations to help discover a cure for the deadly affliction.

James Allison, researcher at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and 2018 Nobel Prize recipient, will be on the panel discussing ways to innovate within cancer research. The program starts at 5 pm on Saturday, March 9, at the JW Marriott. Learn more.

3/10 — SXSW Pitch Presented by Cyndx Awards Ceremony

Two Houston startups are competing for an award in the 11th annual SXSW Pitch Event. Fluidity Technologies will be presenting as its drone controller, FT Aviator, in the Hyper-Connected Communities category on Saturday, March 9, at 5 pm, and Zibrio SmartScale, which is in the Health and Wearable category, will present on Sunday, March 10, at 5 pm.

The pitch awards will take place at 6:30 pm on Sunday, March 10, at the Hilton Austin Downtown. Learn more.

3/11 — Tech Diversity Report Card 2019

Is diversity and inclusion basically just a myth in technology? Is it something that's attainable at this point, and what can the industry do to make that happen? A group of panelists discuss based on their experience and observations.

Heidi Hoover, head of office at Houston-based Flanders Investment & Trade, will be a member of the panel, which occurs on Monday, March 11, at 5 pm, at Capital Factory. Learn more.

3/11 — Angel Investor Meetup

Calling all acting and aspiring investors — it's time to rally. Two Texas investors are gathering the troops to discuss trends and opportunities in the state's — and the world's — investment sector.

Samantha Lewis of Houston-based GOOSE Society of Texas will be one of the hosts of the meetup, which takes place on Monday, March 11, at 5 p.m, at the Fairmont Hotel. Learn more.

3/12 — AI & IoT Panel and Emerging Company Showcase

Houston-based Baker Botts and Global Corporate Venturing are setting the stage for emerging tech companies to shine. The event includes a panel, a showcase, and an evening of networking.

James McKell, of Chevron Technology Ventures, is representing Houston on the panel, which begins at 2 pm on Tuesday, March 12, at Hotel Van Zandt. Learn more.

Honorable mentions


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Rice Alliance event identifies 4 most-promising energy tech companies at CERAWeek

startups to watch

Wondering what energy tech companies you should keep an eye on? Wonder no more.

As a part of 2021 CERAWeek by IHS Markit, the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship hosted a virtual pitch competition today featuring 20 companies in four sessions. Each entrepreneur had four minutes to pitch, and then a few more to take questions from industry experts.

"Of the companies here today, we've intentionally selected a diverse group," says Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance at the start of the event. "They range from companies looking for their seed funding to companies that have raised $20 million or more."

The following companies pitched at the event: Acoustic Wells, ALLY ENERGY, Bluefield Technologies, Cemvita Factory, Connectus Global, Damorphe, Ovopod Ltd., DrillDocs, GreenFire Energy, inerG, Locus Bio-Energy Solutions, Nesh, Pythias Analytics, REVOLUTION Turbine Technologies, Revterra, ROCSOLE, Senslytics, Subsea Micropiles, Syzygy Plasmonics, Transitional Energy, and Universal Subsea.

At the end of each session, attendees voted via Zoom poll on which startup had the most potential. According to the event attendees, the most promising energy tech companies are:

REVOLUTION Turbine Technologies

Asheville, North Carolina-based REVOLUTION Turbine Technologies is working to "put a green spin on power." The company's micro-Expansion Turbine System produces green power for digital oilfield and pipeline initiatives through the recovery of excess natural gas pressure.

"RTT's technology provides a scalable, clean energy source to reliably power digital oilfield and pipeline initiatives at a significantly low operating cost," says Christopher Bean, founder and CEO, in his presentation. "Never has it been more important to make production and pipeline operations greener, safer, and efficient."

Connectus Global

Connectus Global, based in Calgary, provides custom technology solutions that can increase productivity, profits, and competitiveness. Connectus' Real-Time Location System, or RTLS, uses Ultra-Wide Band for communication and triangulation while hosting a Radio Frequency Identification Device, which come in the form of badges, tags, and receivers.

"In our first year, we received $800,000 in revenue and are on track to hit our numbers — $3.6 million — at the end of this fiscal year," says Mike Anderson, CEO of the company, in his presentation." We have a global white labeling agreement with Honeywell and we make up about 75 percent of their digitized workforce management portfolio."

The company's U.S. office is located in Houston.

DrillDocs

Houston-based DrillDocs has created an automated drilling cuttings characterization service, called CleanSight, that supports an operator's understanding of their wellbore's state of stability and cleanness in real time.

"We're taking computer vision to the drilling rig," says Calvin Holt, CEO and co-founder at DrillDocs, in his presentation. "Now for the first time, drilling and geomechanics teams will have unique, real-time data to ascertain the well's condition."

Revterra

Revterra, a Houston-based company and inaugural Greentown Houston member company, is creating a flywheel energy storage system for long-duration grid-scale applications.

"For those of us in Texas, the power outages we experienced a couple weeks ago are a stark reminder that the stability and the resiliency of our electric grid should be a top priority as we transition to low-emission power sources," says Ben Jawdat, founder and CEO at Revterra, in his presentation. "Energy storage is a critical element in both grid stability and enabling our transition to sustainable energy."

Houston makes top 10 list for major metros based on startup growth

by the numbers

Houston is a bustling hub for startup activity — and the numbers don't lie.

A new ranking from real estate investment marketplace Roofstock places Houston at No. 10 among the major U.S. metro areas with the highest rates of startup formation. Roofstock's ranking, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, puts the Houston area's startup formation rate at 9.48 percent. The startup formation rate refers to the number of new businesses in a given year divided by the total number of businesses.

Here's the other Houston startup data cited by Roofstock:

  • Annual number of startup formations: 9,214
  • Annual number of jobs created by startups: 55,475
  • Number of jobs created by startups as a share of all new jobs: 14.44 percent

"In the past years, Houston has seen a massive burst in its startup ecosystem. … Houston is one of the best places in the United States for entrepreneurs to launch and grow a business," Houston-based app developer Bixlabs says.

As a matter of fact, the Houston area's ratio of new business founders to total business founders stood at a healthy 21 percent as of December 2020, according to career website LinkedIn. Houston was sandwiched between Salt Lake City (26 percent) and Dallas-Fort Worth (20 percent). Also in 2020 and 2019, Houston ranked sixth on a list published by residential real estate platform Clever of the most affordable U.S. metros for startups.

"Considering Houston's metro is tied with San Antonio's for the highest average investment in small business, and the proximity to great food, the Gulf of Mexico coast, and attractions like Minute Maid Park and the NASA Space Center, we would definitely suggest considering starting a business here," Clever says.

Two other Texas metros appear on Roofstock's list — Austin at No. 3 (startup formation rate of 10.61 percent) and Dallas-Fort Worth at No. 5 (startup formation rate of 9.82 percent).

Here's the additional data for the Austin metro area:

  • Number of annual startup formations: 3,858
  • Number of annual new jobs created by startups: 21,357
  • Number of jobs created by startups as a share of all new jobs: 16.49 percent

Here's the additional data for the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area:

  • Number of annual startup formations: 10,731
  • Number of annual new jobs created by startups: 69,696
  • Number of jobs created by startups as a share of all new jobs: 15.11 percent

The Las Vegas metro area holds the No. 1 spot on the Roofstock list, with a startup formation rate of 11.44 percent.

Houston venture capitalist says it's time for more women in VC

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 73

In all the turmoil of 2020, Samantha Lewis had at least one silver lining. The former director of Goose Capital transitioned into her new position as principal at Mercury Fund.

However fortunate she feels to have her new position, she shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast this week that there's not nearly enough of women like her in venture capital.

"The bottom line is there has to be more women with check-writing abilities," Lewis says on the show. "And when there is more women with check-writing abilities, more women will get funded."

Joining the podcast at the start of Women's History Month, Lewis says that the pandemic disproportionately affected women's careers across the board — but when it comes to VC, the solution is growing the female representation at firms.

"It is up to the people in VC hiring or the institutional investors who are giving money to funds to make sure there's a woman on the investment team," she says — adding that just one isn't enough.

In her role at Mercury, Lewis is helping build up the fund's processes — something she specialized in at Goose. She's also focused on building up the portfolio around a specific theme.

"One of the things specifically that Mercury brought me over to focus on from an investment perspective is something we're calling our 'power theme,'" Lewis says. "Think about it as giving people the power to make decisions that are authentic to their values around sustainability and impact."

There have been significant changes in consumer values driven by millennials, and businesses are prioritizing sustainability and transparency in order to keep up. Lewis discusses how Houston-based Topl, which is one of Mercury's portfolio companies, has a major role to play in this space.

Another key area of interest for Lewis is fintech.

"The other piece of the theme is thinking about the democratization of financial services," Lewis says. "Legacy financial institutions have ignored large groups of our population here in America and broader for a very long time. Technology is actually breaking down a lot of those barriers, so there are all these groups that have traditionally been ignored that now technology can reach to help them build wealth."

Lewis discusses more about how Mercury Fund is at an inflection point and how the Houston innovation ecosystem is developing with intention on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.