Despite the effect COVID-19 has had on Houston venture capital, this Kansas City, Missouri-based VC is looking to continue to connect with the local tech scene remotely. Getty Images

A Kansas City, Missouri-based venture capital firm has had its eyes on Houston since fall of last year, and it's not letting the pandemic slow down its immersion into the local startup ecosystem.

Flyover Capital focuses on tech startups based in the middle of the country — from Denver to Atlanta, and the Twin Cities down to Houston. Usually funding seed to series A rounds, Flyover's thesis is geared at "creating the next generation of tech success stories outside traditional tech hubs," says Dan Kerr, principal at the firm.

This region, which Crunchbase dubbed "The Mighty Middle" in a recent report, has seen a growth in venture capital invested over the past decade. Annual investment grew from $5.8 billion invested in 2010 to $20.2 billion in 2019 alone, according to the report, and Texas is leading the pack. The Lone Star State accounted for $24 billion of the region's $92.6 billion venture capital invested in the past decade, per the report.

Flyover Capital, which was founded in 2014, has connected a couple dozen Houston startups in the past six months, Kerr says, and the firm is keeping up with several of those to this day. He predicts the firm will "dive in deeper" into some of those companies in the next six months.

Houston is "one of the cities among those that fall in our region where we plan to spend a significant amount of time," Kerr tells InnovationMap. "We cover a lot of ground, but there are certain cities were we try to get there quarterly. Houston is definitely one of those places."

Kerr says his first impression of Houston was its strength as a B2B — especially as that pertains to its entrepreneurs.

"There are a lot of people who are experienced in their career, maybe with a technical background, and are looking to build a business going after some problem that they see," Kerr says.

In a similar vein, Houston's corporate involvement with its startup ecosystem has been a big indicator of opportunity.

"One of the things we've identified as a strength in a lot of the middle America ecosystems is if they get the corporations involved, then that is a good marker for success, especially if you have some of the other ingredients involved," Kerr says.

Houston Exponential, which Kerr says has been helpful in allowing Flyover to tap into the ecosystem — especially in times like these — has also demonstrated Houston's strength as a B2B community with deep corporate connections.

And Flyover isn't the only VC firm that HX has seen interest from recently. This month, HX has planned more immersion days — where it connects VCs to startup development organizations and startups across town — than it's ever had in a single month, says Harvin Moore, president of HX. The immersion days will be happening completely online.

"It's clear from the indication that we get from VCs and angel networks that people are saying, 'Okay, we need to be looking for new deals,'" Moore says.

For Flyover Capital, Kerr describes the VC as "active, but of course cautious" when it comes to investing in new deals in the current economic environment.

"We're not alone in saying we're actively investing," Kerr says. "I think I've seen some surveys that 60 or so percent of investors are saying they're staying the course."

In fact, finding a positive spin, Kerr says the pandemic has had a "moderating effect" to the investment environment. "Rounds were happening in some cases in a crazy manner," he says of pre-COVID conditions.

Plus, while he hasn't seen a huge change to valuations, the economic conditions caused by COVID-19 could correct some of the over-valuations on the coasts.

"As unfortunate as these times are for lots of people, this is where many companies ultimately find their footing and success," Kerr says.

Houston startups have raised millions so far this year. Getty Images

Here's what 6 Houston startups have raised millions of dollars this year so far

VENTURE ADVENTURES

This year is starting strong when it comes to Houston startups receiving funding. From a $125 million raise from Houston's first unicorn to a local fund gathering up $50 million to deploy in mobility startups, Houston funding news has been pretty exciting.

In case you missed some of these headlines, InnovationMap has rounded up these seven deals based on previous reporting. Scroll through to see which Houston startups are catching the eyes — and cashing the checks — of investors.

HighRadius Corp.

Houston-based HighRadius has reported reaching unicorn status following a $125 million raise. Photo via highradius.com

Let's start with the biggest one, shall we? Houston-based HighRadius, an artificial intelligence-powered fintech software company, closed a $125 million raise, which earned it a a new title: Unicorn.

The series B round, which achieved this status for HighRadius, was led by ICONIQ Capital, with participation from existing investors Susquehanna Growth Equity and Citi Ventures, according to a news release from the company.

The company, which offices in West Houston, was founded in 2006 founded in 2006 and employs more than 1,000 people in North America, Europe, and Asia. In November, HighRadius opened an office in Amsterdam. According to the news release, the company will use the funds to further expand its global footprint.

Read the full story here.

Proeza Ventures

Auto Driving Smart Car image

A new venture capital fund based in Houston and Monterrey, Mexico, has raised $50 million to back mobility startups. Hiroshi Watanabe/Getty Images

New fund Proeza Ventures, which is based in Houston and Monterrey, Mexico, reportedly closed its first fund Proeza Ventures I at $50 million. The fund is backed by Grupo Proeza, a Mexican portfolio management company with two global platforms operating in the mobility and agroindustry sectors, according to the fund's website.

With the fund's money, Proenza Ventures will invest in 12 to 15 early or growth-stage startups with solutions or new technology within industrial, smart components, new vehicles, MaaS, and digital data services.

Read the full story here.

Ambyint

oil and gas

Ambyint, which has offices in Calgary and Houston, has secured funding from Houston venture capital firms. Getty Images

Canada-based Ambyint, which has an office in Houston, has closed its $15 million series B funding. Houston-based Cottonwood Venture Partners led the round, and Houston-based Mercury Fund also contributed — as did Ambyint's management team, according to a news release.

The money will be used to grow both its Houston and Calgary, Alberta, offices and expand its suite of software solutions for wells and artificial lift systems. Ambyint's technology pairs artificial intelligence with advanced physics and subject matter expertise to automate processes on across all well types and artificial lift systems.

Read the full story here.

vChain Inc.

Houston-based vChain, creator of CodeNotary, has raised $7 million in a series A financing round. Pexels

Houston-based vChain, which created the CodeNotary Open Source code trust solution, has raised $7 million in a series A funding round. Paris-based Elaia Partners led the investment round, and other contributors include Zug, Switzerland-based Bluwat and Seattle-based Acequia Capital.

The software tool, which is used to ensure code is securely transmitted throughout the entire development to production process, has several platform integrations and works with languages such as JavaScript, Python, Go, Java, and more.

Read the full story here.

Vivante Health

good intestine health intestine Food for bowel Health

Vivante Health, which uses technology and at-home testing to help users treat chronic digestive health issues, has raised $5.8 million. Getty Images

Vivante Health raised $5.8 million in a series A1 round, according to a news release. The round was led by California-based Lifeforce Capital and Athens, Greece-based Big Pi Ventures. Additionally, NFP Ventures, FCA Venture Partners, and Longmont Capital contributed to the round.

With the fresh funds, Vivante will continue to develop its GI health platform, GIThrive. The digital tool has an at-home microbiome test kit for users, as well as a breath tester that monitors food sensitivities. GIThrive also connects users to on-demand support from nutritionists and experts on the GIThrive app.

Read the full story here.

Hitched Inc.

Houston-based Hitched has dug up new investment money from a local private equity firm. Pexels

Hitched Inc. raised $5.5 million in its series A funding led by Houston-based Cottonwood Venture Partners, a growth equity firm that focuses on digital tech solutions in the energy industry.

The company, which was founded in 2018, coordinates the rentals — from hosting and chartering to managing them — all on one centralized platform. Hitched has a catalogue of equipment from generators and cranes to light towers, pumps to forklifts, and the site lists out the cost per day of each piece of machinery.

Read the full story here.

LetsLaunch, a Houston-based fundraising platform, has teamed up with The Cannon. Courtesy of LetsLaunch

Houston fintech startup partners with local coworking space to grow investment opportunities

Funding friends

A Houston fintech software company has joined forces with The Cannon to help connect its members to capital. LetsLaunch, a platform that allows for smaller investments from non-accredited investors, and The Cannon — along with its venture arm, Cannon Ventures — have officially entered a partnership as of this month.

"We're basically providing a transactional tool to allow Cannon Ventures to access more members who, legally, they couldn't access before," says Nick Carnrite, co-founder and CEO of LetsLaunch. "For us, it's a good thing because instead of having to go out and create a community of startups and investors, that gets brought to us."

The partnership will allow for The Cannon's members to have access to the platform, and LetsLaunch can piggyback off the Cannon's existing network and programming. For instance, if The Cannon hosts a pitch night, LetsLaunch could enable live investing so that anyone in the crowd could invest that night.

Additionally, companies backed by Cannon Ventures can easily do a dual raise — one side open to accredited investors writing big checks and the other on LetsLaunch open to anyone. For this setup, LetsLaunch investors get the perk of having the company vetted by the Cannon Ventures investors.

"[The partnership] allows us to further the vision of Cannon Ventures, which is to truly democratize angel investing," says Lawson Gow, founder and CEO of The Cannon and Cannon Ventures. "We want to activate and allow anyone who is interested in making investments of any size and in any way." (Gow is the son of the CEO of InnovationMap's parent company.)

LetsLaunch opened for business at the end of last year. The site works, in many ways, like a crowdfunding site, only investors receive equity for their money. Due to regulations, investment campaigns max out at around a million dollars, and how much one can invest depends on their annual income. For LetsLaunch's demographic, most users can invest up to $20,000 a year, Carnrite says. There is a minimum of a $250 investment per transaction, but Carnrite says he expects the average investment to be closer to $1,000 per transaction.

According to Carnrite, LetsLaunch is solving the exclusivity problem that traditional investing creates. Such a small pool of people can invest in companies for equity.

"There's something like 30 million people globally that have a $1 million net worth, which is the definition of being an accredited investor," Carnrite says. "Thirty million people out of 7.7 billion, so it's a little less than half a percentage."

And, according to Gow, this is a huge problem in Houston for companies who don't have access to funding.

"We had a company leave The Cannon last week and move to New York because they couldn't get funding in Houston," Gow says. "We're still losing battles every day — and one of the main reasons is getting early stage funding in companies."

A new venture capital firm launched in Houston to focus on female-led startups. Courtesy of The Artemis Fund

Female-led venture capital firm launches in Houston to move the needle on investment in women-owned companies

Who runs the world?

Three powerhouse investment minds have teamed up to launch a female-focused seed and series A venture capital firm in Houston.

In its first $20 million fund, The Artemis Fund will invest in around 30 women-led companies, and will award a $100,000 investment prize at the Rice Business Plan Competition, which takes place April 4 through 6. According to the company's press release, The Artemis Fund is the first of its kind — being female-led and female-focused — in Houston.

"There is a wealth of female leadership in the Houston innovation ecosystem, and we would like to see the same representation in the investor the investor community to help female founders thrive," says Stephanie Campbell, co-founder and principal of The Artemis Fund.

Campbell, and her co-founders, Leslie Goldman and Diana Murakhovskaya, all have extensive experience in venture capital. Campbell has served as managing director for The Houston Angel Network since 2016, while Goldman currently sits on the board of the organization and Murakhovskaya has been a previous investor member. Murakhovskaya worked for a long time in New York City and co-founded the Monarq Incubator, which focuses on women-led startups.

Women make up only 9 percent of decision makers in VC firms in the United States, and women-led companies only receive of 2 percent of venture capital, the release cites. This imbalance is something Artemis exists to change, especially since two-thirds — $22 trillion — of the nation's personal wealth will be controlled by women by 2020, the release states, citing the BMO Wealth Institute, and women currently drive 85 percent of purchases, or $150 billion.

While fewer and farther in between, venture-backed, women-led startups are more profitable. Reportedly, they achieve higher revenues by 12 percent, according to the Kauffman Fellows Report, and higher returns by 63 percent, per First Round's 10-Year Report.

"I'm enthusiastic about launching The Artemis Fund in Texas and reaching a new class of funders to invest in the most diverse tech-enabled companies from across the country," says Murakhovskaya in the release. "Houston, in particular, is uniquely positioned to be the next big tech hub with one of the most active angel groups, a burgeoning innovation ecosystem, support from Houston Exponential, top universities, and historically sidelined capital ready to be activated."

The three principals and co-founders are arguably the fund's greatest asset — from their connections, experience, and reputation. Together, they have in backgrounds in business, law, and engineering.

"We want female entrepreneurs to feel that Houston is a welcoming place to start, grow, and support female-led businesses," says Goldman in the release. "The Artemis Fund will play an integral part in creating this environment."

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The new service every Houston shopper and small business needs to know about

24/7 Delivery

Holiday shopping is in full swing, and the bane of everyone's existence — especially during a pandemic — is shipping.

For smaller and mid-sized local businesses, that means paying big-business prices to a national shipping company. And for consumers, it's waiting a week or more to receive your item, even if you paid for shipping.

Lalamove has a solution for both parties. The 24/7 on-demand delivery app recently launched in Houston and offers affordable, same-day delivery services for the local merchants we're all trying to support right now.

"Amidst COVID-19, it is more important than ever to shop local and support our small businesses," says Lalamove's international managing director, Blake Larson. "We look forward to providing our services to Houston businesses in need of a fruitful start to the holiday season."

Unlike other delivery options, Lalamove delivers everything from food to small packages to bulky furniture within the same day, and it operates on a base-plus-miles pricing model with no commissions.

Deliveries in a sedan start at $8.90, with $1 per additional mile. SUV pricing has a base fare of $16.90 plus $1.25 per mile. Other same-day delivery options with national shipping companies can be well over $100 dollars, depending on the size and weight of the package.

Neighborhood-to-neighborhood sedan pricing is more affordable than traditional same-day shipping: Museum District to Midtown is $9.90, Midtown to The Heights is $14.90, and Northside to East Downtown is $17.90.

This also contrasts with food delivery platforms that charge restaurants 15-30 percent commission on the entire order; with Lalamove, the delivery charge for a $25 meal is the same as a $150 meal.

Users and businesses can place an order via the Lalamove app or on its website, which is available 24/7. When placing your order, you are instantly matched with a driver and their car, based on your delivery needs. You can deliver to (or order from) up to 20 locations in one order with the multi-stop delivery feature, and can schedule a delivery in advance or book for right then.

Lalamove app Using Lalamove is simple. Graphic courtesy of Lalamove

Shoppers can request Lalamove's services with local boutiques and stores that don't normally offer delivery, and get instant gratification (and a much smoother holiday season) with same-day delivery.

Both sides can rest easy knowing that things will arrive in time for the holidays in a trusted, secure, and quick fashion.

To help small businesses provide fast, reliable delivery throughout the holidays, Lalamove is offering $10 off with promo code LACMHOU10. Business owners can try out the service, or customers can take advantage of Lalamove if they need delivery.

City offers internet vouchers to low-income Houstonians amid pandemic

tech support

It's an increasingly digital world, and COVID-19 has just accelerated that trend exponentially. Yet, there are still tons of Houstonians operating offline due to socioeconomic inequities.

The Houston City Council recently approved a $624,960 program with funding from the CARES Act to help bridge this gap. The program, by Mayor Sylvester Turner's Health Equity Response (H.E.R.) Task Force in partnership with Comcast, will provide 5,000 internet vouchers to low-income Houstonians. Applications for the vouchers are open from now until December 20, 2020, and will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. They will provide internet for one calendar year.

"This pandemic has highlighted the importance of quality internet service particularly for those vulnerable populations who must stay at home to stay safe," says Mayor Sylvester Turner in a news release. "This program will provide a lifeline for citizens that have struggled through the pandemic without internet access and a way to stay informed, connected and safe during these challenging times."

To be eligible for the voucher, applicants must live in the city of Houston and have a Comcast serviceable address, as well as meet two personal sets of criteria. First, they must prove that their total household income before February 2020 was lower than 80 percent of the area median income, and second, they must either be over age 65, a person with disabilities, households with children less than five years of age, or a person between 16-24 who is not currently enrolled in school or participating in the workforce.

"During this unprecedented time, it is vital for Houstonians to stay connected to the Internet — for education, work, and personal health reasons," says Comcast's Melinda Little, director of Government Affairs in the Houston Region, in the news release. "We're proud to partner with the City of Houston and Mayor Sylvester Turner's Health Equity Response Task Force to help keep Houstonians connected through our Internet Essentials Program."

While there are existing internet access programs, this program, which is complementary to the city's Computer Access Program, is specifically targeting critical groups that have been overlooked.

"The shift online in everything from grocery shopping to accessing healthcare has been an additional barrier that Houstonians with disabilities have been forced to confront as a result of COVID-19," says Gabe Cazares, director of the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities, in the release. "Thanks to Mayor Turner's commitment to equity and accessibility and the City Council's support, this program will breakdown that barrier by providing in-home internet access for qualifying Houstonians with disabilities, enhancing their independence and self-determination."

Shoppers in these Houston suburbs are among biggest holiday spenders in U.S.

big spenders

It appears that delivery drivers (and Santa) will be hauling sleighs full of gifts to homes in The Woodlands and Sugar Land this holiday season.

A new study from personal finance website WalletHub ranks The Woodlands and Sugar Land sixth and seventh, respectively, in the country for cities with the biggest holiday budgets. WalletHub estimates that consumers in The Woodlands will ring up an average of $2,729 in holiday spending; Sugar Land residents will spend $2,728.

Other Greater Houston-area suburbs on the list include League City, No. 15 at $2,501, and Missouri City, No. 98 at $1,264.

Elsewhere in Texas, Flower Mound came in second for holiday spending; residents there will ring up an average of $2,973. Only Palo Alto, California, had a higher amount ($3,056) among the 570 U.S. cities included in the study, which was released November 17.

The five factors that WalletHub used to come up with budget estimates for each city are income, age, savings-to-expenses ratio, income-to-expenses ratio and debt-to-income ratio.

Flower Mound consistently ranks at the top of WalletHub's annual study on holiday spending. Last year, the Dallas suburb came in at No. 3 (budget: $2,937), and in 2018, it landed atop the list at No. 1 (budget: $2,761).

Aside from Flower Mound, five cities in Dallas-Fort Worth appear in WalletHub's top 100:

  • Richardson, No. 36, $2,002
  • Frisco, No. 53, $1,684
  • Plano, No. 59, $1,594
  • Carrollton, No. 71, $1,492
  • North Richland Hills, No. 95, $1,303

Two cities in the Austin area also make the top 100: Cedar Park at No. 73 ($1,472) and Austin at No. 99 ($1,259).

Austin's No. 99 ranking puts it in the top spot among Texas' five largest cities. It's followed by Fort Worth (No. 306, $718), San Antonio (No. 394, $600), Dallas (No. 399, $596), and Houston (No. 436, $565).

Harlingen is the most Scrooge-y Texas city: The estimated $385 holiday budget puts it at No. 560 nationwide.

Overall, Americans predict they'll spend an average of $805 on holiday gifts this year, down significantly from last year's estimate of $942, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Outlooks for U.S. holiday retail sales this year are muted due to the pandemic-produced recession. Consulting giant Deloitte forecasts a modest rise of 1 percent to 1.5 percent, with commercial real estate services provider CBRE guessing the figure will be less than 2 percent.

"The lower projected holiday growth this season is not surprising given the state of the economy. While high unemployment and economic anxiety will weigh on overall retail sales this holiday season, reduced spending on pandemic-sensitive services such as restaurants and travel may help bolster retail holiday sales somewhat," Daniel Bachman, Deloitte's U.S. economic forecaster, says in a release.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.