Since being acquired by a private equity firm, Houston-based HungerRush has expanded its tech. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based HungerRush, which is a point-of-sale system that includes payment-processing, digital ordering, customer engagement, and delivery management, continues to spread its impact to businesses big and small.

A New York private equity firm, Corsair Capital, saw the potential for the cloud-based POS software and purchased a majority stake in HungerRush last summer. In 2022, HungerRush was on target to reach $100 million in recurring revenue according to The Deal.

HungerRush aims to serve an industry that according to the tech company, 80 percent think technology is the way to go to assist restaurants with labor shortages and other barriers. HungerRush acquired artificial intelligence text ordering app OrderAI, ordering and marketing company 9Fold LLC and Menufy.com over the past two years to grow its reach.

In the first quarter, the company introduced a comprehensive all-in-one POS system bundle designed to meet the needs of independent operators (IOs), with the overall goal of providing a tech stack to transform the experiences of both restaurant staff and customers. Their partnership with Menufy, which helps IOs drive both growth and profitability through an online website and mobile app ordering experience and currently serves over 15,000 restaurants across the US market, has helped to deliver the transformed IO experience to pizza restaurants and our offerings have quickly expanded to serve Vietnamese and Mexican restaurants as well.

One of the businesses seeing the benefits of platforms like HungerRush is Little Pop’s Pizzeria, which is a Naperville, Illinois-based pizza spot that uses the HungerRush to communicate to help the small business keep up with the large demands of the Chicagoland suburbs.The platform’s help has led to substantial business growth.

“Thanks to having 5,000 loyalty program customers stored in HungerRush, we were able to quickly communicate the new curbside pickup and no contact delivery options,” says HungerRush user Mike Nelson of Little Pop’s Pizzeria. “Getting the word out through email and Facebook has increased our business by 75 percent.”

HungerRush continues to flourish in a crowded marketspace, which Chief Revenue Officer Olivier Thierry attributes to the platform’s accessibility to the audience and variety of features.

“While speaking to small business restaurant owners, we continued to hear the unique challenges they faced around having to navigate multiple delivery app interfaces, labor scheduling solutions, and other tools – resulting in many ending the month under their goal quotas, “ Thierry says. “Our tech tools arm our IOs to be able to manage omnichannel ordering, inventory, loyalty programs, and labor scheduling - but most importantly, support them where they need it the most to be successful in today’s digital world.”
Here's your latest roundup of innovation news you may have missed. Photo via Getty Images

3 Houston startups join accelerators, PE-backed biz names new execs, and more innovation news

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It's been a busy month so far with plenty of Houston startup news, major ecosystem events, and more — and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, three startups join three different accelerator programs, a Houston innovator publishes a book, and a PE-backed tech company makes changes to its C-suite.

Rivalry Tech snags spot in Comcast NBCUniversal SportsTech Accelerator

Rivalry Tech, the parent company for stadium mobile ordering platform sEATz, was selected for a prestigious program. Photo via rivalrytech.com

A Houston-based startup has been selected for the third cohort for the Comcast NBCUniversal SportsTech Accelerator. Rivalry Tech, a software company that provides mobile ordering technology platform sEATz to stadiums, is one of 10 startups in the program.

The new cohort was selected from over 920 applicants across 40 countries. The six-month program — expanded from its previous 12-week format — allows access to access to leaders and decision makers from across the partner consortium, including NBC Sports, Sky Sports, Comcast Spectacor, Golf, NASCAR, WWE, PGA TOUR, U.S. Ski & Snowboard, USA Swimming, and USA Cycling.

Since the first class in 2021, SportsTech startup alumni have participated in 90 pilots, partnerships, and commercial deals with consortium partners.

"Our alumni from the first two classes of the Comcast NBCUniversal SportsTech accelerator continue to display a prowess for delivering impactful technology while unlocking new revenue opportunities, and I look forward to seeing what powerful innovations and unique partnerships emerge from this year’s program,” says Jenna Kurath, vice president of Startup Partnerships and Head of Comcast NBCUniversal SportsTech, in a news release. "As we evaluated how to bring even more value to our startups and SportsTech partners, a clear need emerged - more time collaborating to tackle complex business challenges. The new six-month format creates additional space for focused testing and experimentation with a curriculum designed for business refinement while allowing the enterprise-ready startups we've selected to continue serving their existing customers.”

PE-backed HungerRush names new execs

HungerRush has a handful of new execs. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based HungerRush, a cloud software provider for the restaurant industry, announced new leaders within its C-suite. The company, recently backed by New York City-based private equity firm Corsair Capital New York City-based private equity firm Corsair Capital, announced three new executives.

  • David Tabachnick has been named CFO. He joins the company from Acoustic where he most recently served as CAO. He brings more than 20 years’ experience to his new role as CFO, including extensive private equity experience through Vista Equity Partners.
  • Patrick Hughes joins as vice president of finance. He will focus on emphasizing longstanding partnerships, reporting, automation, and environment of controls and advise on growth paths for HungerRush. With more than 15 years’ experience in both accounting and FP&A, he excels in high growth environments focused on technology advancements.
  • Jim DaBroi has been appointed COO. He has more than 25 years of experience in developing and growing customer support operations for various SaaS and payments companies. In his role at HungerRush he will be focused on leading the deployment and installations of customer success and technical support efforts.
  • Ashishh Desai has been named vice president of independent operators sales following the company's acquisition of Menufy acquisition. He was previously a co-founder of Kansas City-based Menufy, an industry-leading online food ordering platform acquired in October 2021 and will continue to build and grow HungerRush’s I/O sector.

“We are excited to attract this caliber of world-class Fintech and PE-based talent with the addition of David and Patrick, who together will be key to our rapid growth strategy. In addition, the appointments of Jim and Ashishh bring deep experience in SaaS, payments and sales to our team that is unmatched," says HungerRush CEO Perry Turbes in a news release. "With our now robust leadership team, we will continue to accelerate our commitment to elevate the restaurant technology space and meet the evolving needs of our customers to help them achieve their own goals in the restaurant industry.”

Heroshe named to nonprofit accelerator's spring cohort

The Heroshe team will participate in a hybrid accelerator program. Photo via heroshe.com

A Houston-based tech startup called Heroshe has joined Virgina-based hybrid accelerator Lighthouse Labs for their spring 2023 cohort. Heroshe, according to its website, is a purpose-driven technology company solving the problem of access to global commerce for African businesses.

"We are on a mission to bridge the commerce gap, simplify imports and empower Africans to access global markets," reads the website.

Its eleventh year, Lighthouse Labs, a nonprofit organization, named eight companies to its Batch 14, which begins March 13 in Richmond, Virginia, and ends with Demo Day on May 23.

“This cohort’s companies offer bold solutions to address current-day problems in industries ranging from logistics to cybersecurity, health/wellness to retail, and real estate to software,” says Paul Nolde, managing executive director at Lighthouse Labs, in a news release. “This group of startups represents the best of innovation and entrepreneurship across the Commonwealth and beyond.”

Around 200 companies applied and were evaluated. Of the applications, 49 moved forward to the first round of reviews, and 17 participated in interviews. All companies will receive $20,000 in equity-free funding, participate in weekly educational programming, get mentorship from Lighthouse’s extensive mentor network, and connect directly with local partners and investors.

Houston innovator publishes first book

Kara Branch's book is available on Amazon. Image via Amazon

A Houston innovator — an award-winning one at that — has published a book Kara Branch is the CEO of Black Girls Do Engineer, an organization on a mission to inspire future women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.She released her first book, “What is S.T.E.M.?”

"Many are familiar with the acronym S.T.E.M. but don’t necessarily understand what the term means," reads the book's description. "This book will help you understand what is S.T.E.M. and introduce you to S.T.E.M. careers that falls under each letter."

IncentiFind finds spot in growth-focused program

IncentiFind was selected for a new program. Photo courtesy of IncentiFind

IncentiFind, a Houston-based startup that helps the real estate industry find grant opportunities, has joined Chicago-based Moderne Ventures' inaugural "Passport Class," which is a six-month program providing its participants education, exposure, insight, and relationships to drive customer growth.

"Unlike a traditional accelerator, Moderne Passport is a comprehensive industry immersion program that helps companies of all stages – seed through pre-IPO – hone their go-to-market strategies in the real estate sector, build relationships with industry leaders and execute pilot programs and customer relationships with some of the largest companies in the world," says Carolyn Kwon, Moderne Passport director, in a news release.

IncentiFind, founded by Natalie Goodman, is one of six companies selected for the first batch of startups. Moderne Ventures is a venture capital firm focused on the industries of real estate, finance, insurance, ESG, and home services.

"Moderne most often looks outside its industries to find technologies that can be applicable within them," says Constance Freedman, founder and managing partner at Moderne Ventures. "This latest Passport cohort was curated to include innovative solutions that are highly applicable to some of our industry's most pressing challenges. We look forward to helping these companies optimize their products and services and connect with partners in the Moderne Network who can benefit most from them."

HungerRush offers a point-of-sale system that includes payment-processing, digital ordering, customer engagement, and delivery management capabilities. Photo via Getty Images

New York PE firm takes majority stake in Houston restaurant software company

power shift

A New York City-based private equity firm has purchased a majority stake in Houston-based HungerRush, a provider of cloud-based software for restaurants. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Corsair Capital, the new majority shareholder, bought its stake from The CapStreet Group, a private equity firm based in Houston. CapStreet, which first invested in the tech company in 2018, retains a minority stake in HungerRush.

“HungerRush is at the forefront of digital transformation in the restaurant industry. We see tremendous growth potential given its highly differentiated technology architecture, impressive sales momentum and customer pipeline, and numerous upsell and cross-sell opportunities,” Jeremy Schein, a partner at Corsair, says in a news release.

Founded in 2003 as Revention, HungerRush offers a point-of-sale system that includes payment-processing, digital ordering, customer engagement, and delivery management capabilities. Customers of the HungerRush 360 product primarily are operators of quick service and fast casual restaurants with numerous locations.

The Dealreported that HungerRush is on track to reach $100 million in annual recurring revenue in 2022.

Last year, HungerRush acquired two companies: Overland Park, Kansas-based Menufy and New York City-based 9Fold. Menufy provides software for restaurant takeouts and deliveries, and 9Fold provides software for restaurant ordering and marketing. A year earlier, HungerRush purchased Ann Arbor, Michigan-based OrdrAI, a provider of text and voice ordering technology for restaurants.

Perry Turbes, CEO of HungerRush, will continue to lead HungerRush. The current shareholders, including the management team, will roll a significant portion of their equity into the Corsair deal.

Corsair’s investment “provides an opportunity for HungerRush to capitalize on organic and inorganic growth opportunities, enhance our product offerings and go-to-market strategy, and continue to support clients with comprehensive payment and restaurant management solutions that are individually tailored to their values and business goals,” Turbes says.

Raymond James was the financial adviser for Corsair, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett was its legal adviser. William Blair was the financial adviser for HungerRush and CapStreet, and Willkie Farr & Gallagher was their legal adviser.

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Education equity-focused nonprofit taps into robotics, AI to better serve Houston children

the future is bright

Generally, when children are under the age of five, educators believe that they are best suited for and interested in learning, because those are the years in which there is the strongest opportunity to build a broad and solid foundation for lifelong literacy and well-being.

That sentiment is deeply held by Collaborative for Children, the Houston-based nonprofit organization with the mission to meaningfully improve the quality of early childhood education and provide access to cutting-edge technology through its Centers of Excellence to all children, especially those in low-income and marginalized communities.

“The reason the organization was started about 40 years ago is that a group of philanthropists in the greater Houston area suggested that this was so important because 90 percent of the brain develops or grows in the time frame between ages zero to five years of age,” Melanie Johnson, president and CEO of Collaborative for Children, tells InnovationMap.

“And if we were losing children and not preparing them by third grade to be literate, and then subsequently losing them after that for high dropout rates and achievement gaps between poor and affluent children, that this would be the perfect place to start," she continues. "And so, they put the collaborative, the emphasis, and finances collaborative of every, most every early education effort around this region.”

Collaborative for Children’s work in the community is centered around making sure that there is educational equity for all children, regardless of financial status, and providing access to technologies in meaningful ways.

“Ultimately, we want to bridge the digital divide early on so that when children start off their academic journey, they're starting off equipped with the skills to be successful there on,” says Johnson.

Most recently, the institution has focused on utilizing social-emotional learning robots and coding tech toys like the Pepper — the world’s first social humanoid robot able to recognize faces and basic human emotions — and NAO, which resembles human being and stimulates, robots to enhance learning in the classrooms of its Centers of Excellence.

“Technology enhances the learning experience in the Centers of Excellence in ways that a teacher might not be able to,” says Johnson. “Artificial intelligence is used in gamification to allow a child to play and learn while playing.”

For Collaborative for Children, gamification involves transforming typical academic components into gaming themes.

“While playing, the AI gauges the level of skills that they’ve been able to enter into that system and respond with even more challenging tasks or tasks that are still lateral so that they can continue to repeat that skill,” says Johnson.

The socio-emotional learning robots are indeed fascinating, but how does the nonprofit reach these children, and their parents, who might be skeptical of technology?

Ultimately, through the teachers. They draw them in via the technology. If teachers are excited, they act as a conductor of that energy to their students, making their innovative lessons well, electric.

That resonates with most all children, but especially with those diagnosed with autism.

“Robotics like NAO are great for children on the autism spectrum because they are emotionally sensitive and emotionally intelligent,” says Johnson. “They are low sensory, so as NAO runs around the classroom, it can literally have individual and unique conversations with each child based on facial recognition. But most importantly for me, is that this particular robot is able to evaluate children without statistical bias that a teacher might have.

“A teacher might think that because a child confuses the letter D and B, which are basically shaped the same in opposite directions, that they're not learning," she continues. "And the robot will have no prior knowledge in terms of, is this child the better child, or have they been learning throughout the year? The answers are accurate or inaccurate. So, they remove statistical bias when assessing children in the classroom.”

The misconception about teaching technologies is that it’s about screen time. According to Johnson, it’s not. It’s more about interacting with technology.

“We’ve added, you know, all kinds of modern-day technology so that this world that we're preparing these children for 80 percent of the jobs we don't even know will exist when they are adults,” says Johnson. “So, we're just trying to make sure that there is no divide in terms of 21st century skills and 21st century preparation.”

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Collaborative for Children has so many facets to assist children with their early development, but there are inherent challenges when attempting to reach their target audience in low-income and marginalized communities that the organization counters with programs like the Collab Lab, which is a mobile classroom that brings critical, future-focused early childhood education directly to the community at no cost.

Designed to be convenient for families, Collab Lab connects parents and their youngest children with experts, educators, resources, and proven programs whose goal is to make sure that kids have the skills essential to learning from the moment they walk into kindergarten for the first time.

“There are a myriad of challenges in these communities that we serve, specifically with technology,” says Johnson. “When children enter first grade, and especially second grade, they're given notepads, basically, digital notepads, because it's no good in pre-K oftentimes, but it is very helpful for children who will never have access or have limited access to iPads and things of that nature.

“So while we don't want them to be babysat by screen time and have social media impacting their self-image and self-worth, we definitely want them to have appropriate doses and appropriate uses of technology in the early education, so that those barriers that their parents face with limited means, that these children can go to first grade and into the robotics class and be able to be evaluated and assessed on the digital notepads that are required nowadays,” she continues.

While technology is very important, Collaborative for Children also focuses on the critical social and emotional skills children need as they develop and the all too important relationship between children and their parents and teachers.

“Theory leads our work,” says Johnson. “It's all focused on fine motor skills, gross motor skills, social emotional, can a child build rapport with their teacher and with the students around them. Those things are paramount and will never change.

“What we use technology to do is enhance and remove biases from teacher-pupil interaction, but also to bridge any kind of divide in terms of 21st century skills. And in addition to that, we engage the families. So families who might not know about hydro-fueled cars in those communities that we serve will be able to be exposed to those concepts, as well through our group connections or parent partnerships.”

Ultimately, the last thing Collaborative for Children wants is to send children from early learning and childcare environments into the K-12 system unprepared to be successful for the real world.

“At Collaborative for Children,” adds Johnson. “We are continuously pushing the envelope at our Centers for Excellence so that the children that we serve will always be on the cutting edge.

The last thing Collaborative for Children wants is to send children from early learning and childcare environments into the K-12 system unprepared to be successful for the real world. Photo courtesy of Collaborative for Children

Houston med school develops revolutionary mRNA vaccine for elephants

zoology biology

An innovative team from Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital has worked with the Houston Zoo to develop a first-of-its-kind treatment for elephants, which has been administered to its first patient.

Tess, the beloved, 40-year-old matriarch of the Houston Zoo’s elephant herd, is recovering well after receiving the first-ever mRNA vaccine against elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) 1A on Tuesday, June 18. The veterinary staff at the Houston Zoo will monitor Tess in the coming weeks to check her reaction and the efficacy of the vaccine.

EEHV 1A is a deadly infection for Asian Elephants. While generally benign in African Elephants, Asian Elephants can develop fatal hemorrhages. The fatality rate is a whopping 80 percent, making it one of the most serous threats to elephant populations outside of humans.

Anti-viral drugs have some effect on the disease, but two-thirds show no improvement. This has led to a search for a vaccine. For 15 years, the Houston Zoo and Dr. Paul Ling at Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Virology and Microbiology have partnered to develop the drug. They have been helped by worldwide research from zoos and animal specialists, as well as graduate student Jessica Watts and Dr. Jeroen Pollet at Houston's Texas Children’s Hospital. The research has been funded by private donations, research partnerships, and grants.

Before being inoculated, the mRNA vaccine was exhaustively tested, with the dosage being extrapolated from data involving horses.

Houston Zoo veterinarians will periodically test Tess to see if she is developing the appropriate antibodies. If she is and there are no adverse reactions, the next step will be to administer the vaccine to the rest of the Houston herd. Many of these are Tess’s own children (Tucker, Tupelo, Tilly, and Teddy) and grandchildren (Winnie).

Should the vaccine prove effective, the doses will be made available worldwide to zoos and private elephant sanctuaries. It is likely to have a significant benefit on protecting and preserving the Asian Elephant population. As of January, there are fewer than 50,000 of the animas left in the wild. They are currently listed as endangered, and breeding programs and research done through the Houston Zoo are essential to keeping the animals from going extinct.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

New study says Houston is best city to grow business

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The Bayou City has again received recognition as a top hub for business.

According to a new study by business revenue experts The RevOps Team, Houston is one of the cities in the US with 10 or more companies listed in the S&P 500, and has been named as the number one city with the fastest growing businesses in the U.S. Houston scored the highest Average Business Growth (ABG) at 26.7 percent. The business experts divided the data from the S&P 500 Index to see what businesses had the highest share-price growth in the last year.

Out of the 28 states and the cities with 10 or more businesses listed in the S&P 500, Houston was No. 1t for growing businesses with Atlanta, in second place with 15 companies listed and reaching an ABG of 24.2 percent. Two cities in Texas ranked in the top five with Dallas taking third place at 14.9 percent.

Texas ranked fifth place overall in the top five states for business growth with high-performing businesses like Vistra. Vistra was the company with the highest growth in Texas at 277.68 percent, followed by NRG Energy (NRG) with 170.43 percent and Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) at 69.13 percent.

“You need to be ready to both leverage opportunity and adapt to challenges,” Kerri Linsenbigler of RevOps Team said in a news release. “Growing a business wherever you are in the U.S. is not for the faint-hearted, and business owners in Texas will be proud that they have ranked highly in the top five.”

Earlier this month, over a dozen Houston-based companies madeU.S. News and World Report's collection of the "Best Companies to Work For" in 2024-2025.

In December, the city was ranked among the 25 best metropolitan areas to start a small business in a report by personal finance website The Credit Review placed Houston in the No. 22 spot.