3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

Samantha Lewis, Tilman Fertitta, and Tiffany Masterson are this week's innovators to know in Houston. Courtesy images

Houston entrepreneurs never cease to impress, leaving a mark on the city for their business minds, creativity, and overall gumption. This week's three innovators to know are no exception.

From a startup venture capitalist and Houston's most recognizable billionaire to a local mom that created — and now sold — a skincare line with a cult following, these are this week's innovative Houstonians to keep an eye on.

Samantha Lewis, director at The GOOSE Society of Texas

Courtesy of Samantha Lewis

Houston has a big fan in Samantha Lewis. The New Mexico native found her way to Texas by way of Texas A&M University before joining the Houston innovation ecosystem and getting her MBA at Rice University.

On the second episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Lewis, who's the director at The GOOSE Society of Texas, shares her story of wanting to work in venture capital, but being afraid Houston's venture activity would be too slim. She stuck it out and now the ecosystem is in good place for growth.

"We have to think about getting more capital available for companies that add strategic value to Houston," Lewis says on the podcast. Click here to read more and to listen.

Tilman Fertitta, owner of Fertitta Entertainment

Photo by J. Thomas Ford

Likely, Tilman Fertitta is already a name known and in need of no reminder, but the Houston billionaire is again in the headlines. Fertitta, who just recently acquired Del Frisco's steakhouse chain, has released a new business book, Shut Up and Listen! The book contains the entrepreneur's business advice and "Tilmanisms."

"I thought that I would always write a life story book, but Harper Collins approached me and said they wanted a business management book," Fertitta tells CultureMap. I can't tell you how many times we sat around with my close group and edited this book at the end and went through it five times and read it. If we found a paragraph that was boring, we got rid of it or rewrote it."

CultureMap sat down with Fertitta during a rare break to talk books, business, and his beloved Bayou City. Click here to read the interview.

Tiffany Masterson, chief creative officer and founder of Drunk Elephant

Photo via Business Wire

It was a good week for Houstonian Tiffany Masterson. She sold her skincare line, Drunk Elephant, for a reported $845 million to international makeup giant, Shiseido Company Ltd.

"I started this business as an industry outsider, and from the beginning I did things a little differently," Masterson says in a news release. "To join with a powerhouse beauty company such as Shiseido that leads the industry in innovation and global excellence is a dream come true for me and for Drunk Elephant. We share similar values, most importantly an unwavering commitment to the consumer. I chose a partner who will let the brand continue to be itself, with the same formulations and the same team."

Masterson will stay on with the company as the acquisition allows her products to reach a wider, worldwide audience. Click here to read more.

Samantha Lewis is the director at The Goose Society of Texas. Courtesy of Samantha Lewis

Investment group director calls for more startup funding out of Houston

Houston innovators podcast episode 2

A key factor in growing an innovation ecosystem is having the funds to fuel startup growth. Samantha Lewis, director for The GOOSE Society of Texas — a local group of investors — and an entrepreneur herself, is calling on the city's players to help move the needle.

"We have to think about getting more capital available for companies that add strategic value to Houston," Lewis says on the second episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast

Lewis is a Rice University MBA graduate and was involved in two startups before beginning her role at GOOSE, which stands for the Grand Order of Successful Entrepreneurs. The group of 25 high-net-worth individuals operates similar to an angel investment group, in that they invest in early stage companies, but also like a fund, in that they take an active role in the companies in which they invest. The group invests around $10 million annually, with a quarter of that being new deals ranging from $1.5 million to $2 million per check.

"What we do is, as we find these companies, there's usually me and one or two of the investors working on the sourcing and the due diligence. If we find a company and we like it, we bring it in front of the entire group of investors," Lewis says on the podcast. "Each investor gets to decide on its own whether or not they want to commit money.

On the podcast, Lewis talks a bit about GOOSE's recent investment with Syzygy Plasmonics, as well as an investment in Topl, a company she personally felt compelled to help make happen. Both deals came about with networking, a path she gives some guidance on during the episode.

"It's much easier to get in front of investors when you have a referral," she says.

For the full interview, check out the podcast below. Subscribe to the series so you never miss the latest Houston entrepreneur conversations.


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

Houston investor group leads $2.6 million Series A round for Austin-based chemical sensor startup

Money moves

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.

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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City council approves $24M for East End hub, TMCx opens apps, and more Houston innovation news

Short stories

Houston is busting at the seams with innovation news as the ecosystem prepares to wrap up its year of growth. From grants and M&A activity to expansions and awards, there's a lot of news you may have missed.

In this latest news roundup, millions of federal funds are doled out, a female networking app commits to Houston, an accelerator launches applications, and more.

Makerspace in the East End to receive $24 million in federal funds

The East End Maker Hub

The East End Maker Hub plans to move tenants in next summer. Courtesy of TXRX

Last week, the Houston City Council voted in approval of $24 million in federal funds going toward a makerspace in the East End. The renovated 307,000-square-foot East End Maker Hub will be a place for education, training, and small-batch manufacturing.

The project is a collaboration between Urban Partnerships Community Development Corp., or UP CDC, and TXRX Lab, which will occupy around 60,000 square feet in the facility. The rest of the space will be leased out to startups.

The $37 million project is also being funded by a $5 million grant from the Economic Development Association, $7 million from New Market Tax Credits, and around $1.25 of TXRX's funds, including funds the nonprofit raised in donations.

The new facility is expected to create over 400 jobs, reach 14,000 young people annually, and support 100 small urban manufacturers, including 20 startups. The purchase close is planned for this month, and construction will begin next month. The first tenants are slated to move in next summer.

TMCx opens applications for redesigned accelerator program

The revamped TMCx program is accepting applications until December 13. Courtesy of TMC

Applications for the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute's new and improved accelerator program are open for the spring 2020 cohort. Life science startups from around the world can apply online.

After celebrating five years of digital health and medical device startup acceleration, TMCx announced its team had been working to rethink the program to make it more something TMC's member institutions can benefit from.

Themes for the upcoming cohort include remote monitoring, virtual care, hospital efficiency, accessibility, and ideating for the clinics and operating rooms of the future.

Applications close on December 13, and finalists for an in-person bootcamp will be announced by the end of January for the two-week program from February 24 to March 6. After the program, TMCx will select the cohort members on March 20. The program then will run five sessions from April to August before a showcase slated for September.

Chevron Technology Ventures makes two strategic investments

Chevron Technology Ventures, lead by CEO Barbara Burger, has committed to two California-based companies. Courtesy of CTV

Chevron's Houston-based tech investment arm, Chevron Technology Ventures, made two moves recently. Silicon Valley-based NovoNutrients was invited to join the CTV Catalyst Program and Palo Alto, California-based Orbital Insight closed a recent round with help from CTV.

NuroNutrients, which has developed a way to create proteins through carbon capture, is the first biotech company to join CTV's Catalyst Program. The program will help advance the company's technology through market validating opportunities like pilot programs.

Orbital Insight, a geospatial analytics software company, closed its series D funding round at $50 million. The round was led by Sequoia Capital and Clearvision Ventures with contribution from CTV, as well as from Invicta Growth, Bunge Ventures Ltd, Goldman Sachs, Tech Pioneers Fund, and others. The company has raised over $125 million of funding since its founding in 2013.

Houston SaaS company makes acquisition

Coworking Space

A Houston company specializing in digital workplace software solutions has made a strategic acquisition following an exit to private equity. Getty Images

Houston-based iOFFICE, a software-as-a-service company providing solutions in the digital workplace experience, recently acquired Canadian management software entity, Hippo CMMS.

"Incorporating Hippo's solution into iOFFICE's broader application suite is a logical next stage in our company's evolution," says Mark Peterson, CEO of iOFFICE, in a news release. "As one of the leading native SaaS, asset management systems on the market today, Hippo is an ideal fit to join our brand. Their culture is very much like our own - they're strong and they move fast. Their offerings are robust, agile and they share our passion for disrupting the market with solutions that are unlike any other."

iOFFICE was recently acquired by Chicago-based private equity, Waud Capital, which has opened doors for the company to grow at a rapid pace.

Two Houston companies rank on Deloitte's annual Technology Fast 500 list

Two Houston companies made Deloitte's international list of growing tech companies. Shobeir Ansari/Getty Images

Two Houston companies have secured spots on Deloitte's annual Technology Fast 500 annual Technology Fast 500. Onit came in at No. 249, and symplr just made the list at No. 495. In its 25th year, the list represents the fastest-growing tech, media, life science, energy tech, and telecommunications companies from around the world.

The top company on the list was New York-based UiPath, which also has a large office in Houston. The company reported 37,458 percent growth. The 500 companies represent 41 states and provinces in North America, and Silicon Valley companies made up 19 percent of the list. New York City companies held on to 12 percent of the list, the New England region comprised 8 percent of the list, Washington D.C. companies were 7 percent of the list, and Los Angeles companies represented 5 percent of the 500 companies.


HerHeadquarters app plans to launch in Houston ahead of relocation

herheadquarters

HerHeadquarters is rolling out its app locally ahead of relocating to Houston. Courtesy of HerHeadquarters

Female-founded, female-focused tech company, HerHeadquarters, has plans to relocate its business operations to Houston — but first, it's rolling out its app to local female executives. The app plans to go live for the over 103,000 female CEOs in Houston on November 25.

The app's user experience is focused on making digital connections between women-run organizations. The app is live in Los Angeles, Miami, and New York City and is expected to launch simultaneously in San Francisco.

"These collaborations give them the power to increase revenue, company exposure, and expand their territory. We're excited Houston women entrepreneurs get to experience a faster and easier way to secure powerful partnerships, " says founder and CEO of HerHeadquarters, Carina Glover, in a news release.

HighRadius expands to Amsterdam

The Houston-based SaaS company is opening its fourth office to support its growth in Europe. Photo via highradius.com

Houston-based HighRadius Corp., a growing fintech software-as-a-service company, has announced a new office in Amsterdam just three years after opening its London office. Since entering the European market, the region has seen a 400 percent increase in bookings. The company, which has its headquarters in West Houston, also has an office in India.

"Automating order-to-cash and treasury management is a problem that transcends borders," says Sashi Narahari, founder and CEO of HighRadius, in a news release. "Building on the recent addition of Jon Keating as our general manager for EMEA, we continue to invest aggressively in the European market with the opening of our Amsterdam office."

Fannin Innovation Studio granted $2 million for new study

microscope

Getty Images

Houston-based Fannin Innovation Studio has received a $2,000,000 Phase II Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institute of Health. The grant is for the development of the ChorioAnchor device, which is designed to reduce preterm birth and infections in fetal surgery.

The device is being developed in partnership with Fannin, Texas Children's Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine, and Texas A&M University. The grant will be delivered over the next two years to devlop the device for pre-clinical and clinical testing.

"The ChorioAnchor has the potential to reduce these complications by providing mechanical support to the chorioamniotic membranes following fetal surgery, thus reducing the risk for chorioamniotic separation and PPROM," says Dr. Jimmy Espinoza of Texas Children's and BCM in a news release. "The additional support from the NICHD in the form of a Phase II SBIR grant will significantly help in refining the ChorioAnchor device with the objective of obtaining an investigational device exemption from the FDA to evaluate the efficacy and safety of the device in fetal surgeries."

Zibrio named honoree at CES Innovation Awards

The Zibrio SmartScale received national recognition at CES this year. Courtesy of Zibrio

Houston-based Zibrio, which developed a scale for measuring balance, has been named an honoree for CES Innovation Awards. The company has been invited to exhibit in the 2020 showcase.

Zibrio, founded in 2015 by Katharine Forth and Erez Lieberman Aiden, has a technology that came out of the founders' research at NASA. The medical device allows users to keep track of their balancing abilities as its convenient for them, and is especially helpful for the aging population.

3 reasons venture capitalists say no, according to University of Houston research

Houston Voices

One of the most common questions that pops up in startup circles is, "Why did they turn me down?" There are myriad reasons why a venture capitalist might turn down pitches and decline funding. Here, I'll present the three most common.

They don't understand your business

Einstein once said, "If you cannot explain it to a six-year old, you don't understand it yourself."

If you spend an entire presentation showing well-researched facts and figures, talking about how groundbreaking your idea is, and presenting detailed charts and graphs, but your audience still has no idea what you do, you're in trouble.

Moreover, avoid overusing jargon and esoteric terms in your pitch. Speak simply.

If you cannot explain in simple terms what your startup does and why it's marketable, potential investors have no reason to believe you will know what you're doing with their money. To sum up, they'll think you don't understand your own business.

They don't think you've done the legwork

Some venture capitalists invest in early stage startups, so it's totally normal for them to sit through pitches where a product has not even been built yet. Consequently, the problem comes when it becomes evident the startup founder has failed to do any legwork. As a result, investors are likely to feel insecure about giving their money to someone who couldn't even do simple research.

Sure, the product hasn't been built, but that is not an excuse to sit back on cruise control. In other words, don't take your foot off the gas. Move forward constantly and don't stop learning more about your industry.

What have you done for customer development? Customer discovery? How many potential customers have you talked to? How much would they pay for your product or service? Have you studied the competitive dynamics of the market for which you will enter? Who is your competition and what are their strengths and weaknesses? You get the picture.

Certainly, one big misstep among startup founders is that they tend to believe work should not be done until they attain funding. Wrong. During your struggle to attain money, you should be busy learning everything about your industry, market, and customers. That way, once you finally get that meeting with an investor, they will feel much more confident that you will use their money intelligently.

They don't see that you have a strategy

It's an unfortunate commonality that a startup founder will put together a great pitch, get deep into it in front of a venture capitalist, and then unravel the entire presentation by exposing themselves as not having a plan of attack for the market. To clarify, it is a huge waste of your time to undo all your hard work by showing you don't have a strategy. Remember, investors are looking for reasons to pass on you.

When asked about their strategy for reaching the market, a common refrain is, "we will provide this awesome service (or make this awesome product) and the customers will roll right in." Or even "we will partner with this corporate giant who will sell our product because it's that amazing."

Above all, you must show your potential investor that you have the wherewithal to create, polish, and scale a reliable process that reaches your customer base.

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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.

Houston startup adds 2 big names to its board of directors

All aboard

A Houston startup specializing in digital community engagement has added two big names in Houston innovation to its board of directors.

Sandy Wallis and Gina Luna will both be key in moving forward Truss as new board members. Sandy Wallis is the co-founder and managing director of Weathergage Capital and the managing director of the HX Venture Fund, and Gina Luna is CEO of Luna Strategies and active member of several boards of directors.

"Our new board members are leaders in the Houston technology and innovation community, and their joining the Truss team is a testament to our compelling mission and broader market potential," says Patrick Schneidau, CEO of Truss, in a news release. Schneidau is a member if InnovationMap's board of directors.

Schneidau was tapped for his position as CEO in March and was tasked by former CEO Chris Buckner to grow the company. Schneidau is excited about the two additions to Truss's leadership.

"Gina has extensive experience across corporate, nonprofit and startup companies, as well as financial operations," Schneidau says in the release. "Sandy brings invaluable insights into capital raises; her experience in venture funding is unmatched in our city. Both new board members bring the expertise necessary to catapult our growth and expand our customer base."

In September, Truss announced its rebrand and name change from FanReact. The transition opens doors for the company to reach new clients that aren't in the sports industry — but that maybe want to take a page out of the fan experience's book.

Luna, who is the founding chairman of the board for Houston Exponential, has decades of pertinent experience and is very involved in the innovation ecosystem.

"Truss is leading in digital community experiences for athletics and is in a high-growth phase as they expand into other sectors," says Luna in the release. "I'm excited to join the board to help propel the mission and future direction of the company. The sky's the limit as groups of any kind can create the communication, collaboration and connections they desire with Truss."

Wallis has also been very invloved in the ecosystem and was named managing director of HX Venture Fund this summer. Weathergage Capital, a venture capital fund of funds with approximately $1 billion in venture partnership commitments, has been under her leadership for over 13 years.

"Truss is for organizations and their audiences who want better user experiences and levels of engagement in their digital communities," says Wallis in the release. "The market is ready for Truss's privacy-focused platform to serve these organizations. I appreciate the focus on diversity at the company and its passion for hiring the best talent across the board — goals from the company's leaders I look forward to seeing continue long term."