INNOVATIONMAP EMAILS ARE AWESOME

Calling all movers and shakers in Houston innovation — nominations are now open for The Listies. Photo via Getty Images

Calling all Houston startups — you're going to want to hear this. Houston Exponential and InnovationMap have teamed up to create an event to honor the best of Houston innovation.

The awards program — dubbed The Listies, a nod to the HTX TechList that launched earlier this year — will take place on Friday, November 20, online as a part of Impact Hub's annual The Houston Innovation Summit (THIS). Click here to register for the event.

The Listies will feature 11 awards — some honoring startups and others focusing on mentors, corporations, and investors. To nominate an MVP in Houston innovation, click the appropriate category and submit a nomination. Note: All nominees will need to have a page on the HTX TechList to be considered for the award. If they do not, they will be contacted to create one. Join the HTX TechList here.

The Listies Categories

Startup awards:

  • Soonicorn: Which company do you think will be Houston's next unicorn ($1 billion and up valuation)?
  • COVID pivot / COVID Phoenix: Which company had the best rebound after the negative effects of the COVID pandemic?
  • Civil Innovation: Which company led the charge in positive transformation for the city of Houston and the greater Houston area?
  • Welcome to Houston: What is the most promising startup that relocated their headquarters to Houston this year?
  • People's Choice Award: Who is your all-around favorite Houston startup company? (Voting will begin after nominations close.)
Individual awards:

Corporate and investing awards:

The winners will be selected by a group of judges representing the Houston innovation ecosystem. The deadline to submit a nomination is October 30.
Serafina Lalany, chief of staff at Houston Exponential, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the HTX TechList, which launches this week. Photo courtesy of Serafina Lalany

Innovation leader shares more on what Houstonians can expect from the HTX TechList

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 44

When Serafina Lalany first visited Houston, she didn't want to leave. So, she didn't.

Lalany first came to Houston 2017 by way of Austin for SXSW — at the time she was living in Boston working in the biotech space. She kept meeting interesting startup founders and extended her flight home three times.

"There was a groundswell of activity here, and I had to pay attention," Lalany says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Eventually, she moved in and started working for High Drive Network interviewing entrepreneurs and later was tapped to work for venture design studio Fractal River at Station Houston.

Now, as chief of staff at Houston Exponential, she is helping lead new initiatives and projects that plan to grow business and awareness in Houston's innovation space. For the past year, that has meant working on the HTX TechList launch — a new platform that aims to connect and quantify Houston's innovation scene.

"We needed a centralized datasource classifying startups, investors, startup development organizations, and corporate innovators," she says. "There was not any good resource on the internet that was verified, centralized, and adhered to a data standard."

The platform launches Thursday, August 13, following a free, online event hosted by Houston Exponential, and Lalany discusses what users can expect from the platform in the podcast episode. (Note: InnovationMap is a media partner for the event.) You can listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Houston Exponential has a released a report that found that Houston tech companies have seen a 7 percent year-over-year increase in venture capital investments so far in 2020. Getty Images

Houston tech companies have raised over $466M so far this year, new report finds

money moves

This year might be a wash for a lot of things, but according to a new fundraising report from Houston Exponential, the Bayou City has seen an increase in funding this year compared to 2019.

The HTX Funding Review found that Houston startups raised $466.33 million across 46 deals between January and July — compared to $437 in the same time frame last year. While the increase seems marginal, it's important to consider the effect of the pandemic and the few months of troubles for the oil and gas industry.

The 7 percent increase in funding is impressive compared to the national average of 2.5 percent, according to the report, which was organized by Serafina Lalany, HX chief of staff. Eighteen later stage deals made up for 76 percent of the total money raised, indicating key growth for the ecosystem.

"This expansion in Houston's relatively new and booming tech innovation ecosystem shows a strength and resilience that is really exciting," says Harvin Moore, president of HX, in the report. "We are seeing a maturation of our very young ecosystem, as rapidly growing tech companies increasingly access later stage venture capital, which often comes from outside the local area."

The report calls out 11 deals — ranging from angel to late stage — that have occured in Houston to date in 2020:

  • Preventice Solutions, a medical device company, raised a $137 million series B led by Palo Alto-based Vivo Capital along with support from existing investors, including Merck Global Health Innovation Fund, Boston Scientific, and the Samsung Catalyst Fund.
  • Fintech and software-as-a-service company HighRadius raised a $125 million series B led by ICONIQ Capital, with participation from existing investors Susquehanna Growth Equity and Citi Ventures.
  • Liongard, a SaaS company, raised a $17 million series B led by TDF Ventures, Integr8d Capital, and private investors.
  • Base Hologram, a provider of hologram concert experience, raised $15.4 million in an outsized angel round this past May.
  • ThoughtTrace, another SaaS company, raised $10 million in a series B led by McRock Capital and existing investors, as well as Chevron Technology Ventures.
  • Renewable energy company Quidnet also raised a $10 million series B. Bill Gates-backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Canada-based Evok Innovations, which both previously invested in the company, contributed to the round.
  • SmartAC.com emerged from stealth mode with a $10 million series A fundraising announcement.
  • Retina AI, an AI company focused on diagnostics for diseases such as diabetic retinopathy from pictures of the retina, raised $4.1 million in an angel round which closed mid-July.
  • E-commerce platform Goodfair raised $3.67 million from but the round was led by Imaginary, with support from MaC Venture Capital, Global Founders Capital, Willow Ventures, Watertower, Amplify.LA, Capital Factory, and Texas Ventures.
  • SecurityGate, a cybersecurity platform, raised funds from Houston Ventures in June, but wouldn't disclose how much.
  • Oil and gas software company, M1neral, raised $1.6 million pre-seed co-led by Amnis Ventures and Pheasant Energy, among a few other select investors and strategic partners.

While the pandemic has made funding and vetting new portfolio companies, Blair Garrou, managing director of Houston-based Mercury Fund, says venture capital firms are committed to backing the strongest startups already in their portfolio.

"We've seen many VCs focus on a 'flight to quality,'" Garrou says. "Specifically, VCs are focused more on making sure their best performing portfolio companies have cash, especially at the later stages, as well as investing in the later rounds of new deals that are clear over-performers during COVID."

Looking forward, the HX report predicts that fundraising growth will continue throughout the rest of the year.

"There are several very large local deals in final term sheet stage, and we expect full year 2020 to be the highest ever for venture capital in Houston; our ecosystem is really thriving," says Moore in the report.

The HTX TechList — launching August 13 — will help connect the dots in Houston's sprawled and burgeoning innovation ecosystem. Getty Images

Exclusive: New digital platform goes live to help connect the Houston innovation ecosystem

Introducing HTX TechList

With a city as diverse and sprawling as Houston, the local innovation ecosystem could stand to benefit from a platform that connects all the dots virtually. So, that's exactly what Houston Exponential created.

HX — a nonprofit dedicated to promoting innovation in Houston — is launching HTX TechList August 13, and the platform will consist of profiles for startups, investors, startup development organizations, and corporations and will act as both a database as well as a forum for innovators to interact.

"The problem we've been solving for such a long time has been [not having] dependable data that you can rely on," says Serafina Lalany, chief of staff at HX. "We're taking responsibility for the curation for it and the quality assurance of it."

The fact of the matter is there's no one source for data and information on startups in Houston. While platforms like Crunchbase and Pitch Book exist — and the HTX TechList will factor in their data — they can have costly memberships and be far from complete, since they only represent venture capital-backed startups.

"For the first time ever, you're pulling up a startup page and you're seeing all their fundraising history, the SDOs they're a part of, a blurb of what they're working on, and, the thing I'm most excited about is, their tags," Lalany says, adding that there's over 2,000 tags. "It makes the whole thing super searchable."

Lalany emphasizes that accuracy is HX's goal, and the organization has a data team to help to ensure validity. After launch, the emphasis will be on calling Houston innovators to create accounts for themselves and their companies. HX's next hire will likely be for a marketing person, Lalany mentions.

The technology has been white labeled from Israel's Startup Nation Central, which launched Israel Startup Finder in 2017.

"Israel, a couple years ago, was also an emerging ecosystem," says Lalany, explaining that the country wanted to work toward global attention. Meanwhile, she continues, "Houston has access to global markets, but there's been an misconception that innovation wasn't happening here."

The HX team has been working with Startup Nation Central for a while and been training on the platform since January, which has included a buildout of 300 profiles for the site. The TechList will launch on August 13 with a free virtual event featuring Mayor Sylvester Turner, Israel's Startup Finder team, and several. Houston innovators. (Note: InnovationMap is a media partner for the event.)

"When we were thinking about the launch event and just the sheer number of virtual events that happen now, we wanted to be sure that whatever we produce is of absolute value to our audience — the founders," Lalany says.

The event, which has registration open online, will feature breakout rooms focused on topics that are important to Houston founders:

  • Early stage investment
  • Building your team
  • How to pitch to the press
  • Landing an enterprise customer
  • Opportunity in Houston
  • Resources for founders of color

While the idea for the platform has been considered for years at HX — even in its early days, the need for the HTX TechList has been enhanced in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lalany says.

"The world changed in March, and our mission has become realized even more profoundly than before. Our mission has always been to help connect the dots in Houston — it's such a large city, and outsiders are always overwhelmed," she says. "Once we went digital, we were able to do 10 times as much of the curation function that we did pre-pandemic. It's increased a lot of our efficiency."

One-stop shop

Screenshot courtesy of HX

AvidXchange executives explain why a crisis like the pandemic can provide opportunities for growth or realignment. Photo via Getty Images

Overheard: Fintech company with Houston ties sees opportunity for growth in new work-from-home age

Eavesdropping in Houston

From esports to telemedicine, some technologies are having a major moment during the COVID-19 crisis. As many businesses are operating remotely with work-from-home policies in place indefinitely, payments automation is another technology that's seen an opportunity amid the pandemic.

AvidXchange, which has invoice and payment processes automation software for mid-market businesses, is one of the companies in this payment automation space that's seen growth in spite of the economic downturn caused by the virus. The Charlotte, North Carolina-based company was founded in 2000 and went on to acquire Houston-founded Strongroom Solutions Inc. in 2015.

Since the acquisition, AvidXchange has quadrupled its presence in Houston and does a good deal of business locally. Equipping companies with tools for remote work is crucial — now and especially in light of Houston's propensity for challenges. Tyler Gill, vice president of sales for AvidXchange based in the Houston office and former CEO of Strongroom, joined Houston Exponential on a virtual panel to discuss this topic.

"We've had a history of disasters in Houston. Any time we can help businesses move to a more cloud-based infrastructure is going to be better," Gill says on the livestream. "I think working from home is maybe the new normal for a lot of employees — so how do we enable this?"

Gill and his colleague, Chris Elmore, senior sales performance director at AvidXchange, joined Joey Sanchez of HX for the talk about the acquisition, the pandemic, and growth for the company. If you missed it or don't have time to stream the whole conversation, here are some impactful moments of the chat.

“Economic downturns have a tendency to put a very bright light on a feature set or a product or a service that’s underperforming."

— Elmore says on how the pandemic affects innovation and startups. "My hope is that entrepreneurs will see this as a real time to get focused on their business — what's working well and what's not working well — and my hope is that they'll say, 'I need to fix that,' not 'I wish this was better,'" he says.

“For a young entrepreneur looking to build a business, make sure you’re looking for the people who are germane to your business.”

— Gill says about starting his business in Houston. At first, he was trying to find investors in oil and gas, but he found more success working with companies with a background in finance technology. "Houston has a history and density in fintech — I just had to find it."

“The fact that Strongroom owned the automated payment process in HOA that made them so attractive to AvidXchange because we didn’t.”

— Elmore says on the 2015 acquisition. He explains that AvidXchange had set up a presence in multifamily and commercial real estate, while Strongroom had a hold on homeowner's association, or HOA, business. The two companies competed for a while, and if Strongroom hadn't had their HOA specialty that made the company ideal for acquisition, Elmore says the two companies would still be competing today.

“When Strongroom was added to AvidXchange, our culture improved. By the way, we went from 40 employees to 1,000 within 14 months, and Strongroom was right at the beginning of that.”

— Elmore says on growth following the acquisition. The company now has 1,500 employees across seven offices and just closed a $128 million round of fundraising in April.

“Customers don’t care how big you get or how much money you raise from investors. They care about if your service is still doing the things they need to operate their business.”

— Gill says, reminding entrepreneurs to always prioritize and be focused on the client experience — through mergers or acquisitions, fundraising rounds, growth, etc.

“When you replace human interaction with technology, what you have to do, is to now move that person on to something more impactful and more important for the business. I don’t like tech for tech’s sake.”

— Elmore says on the importance of automation. "When you automate something, the output of automation is time," he adds.

“Houston couldn’t be a better place to build a business — I found great investors and employees here. It’s a city that’s used to risk. But it’s got to be you, the entrepreneur, that’s got something festering — that’s how you know it’s a great idea.”

— Gill says on inspiring future innovators. "What kept me motivated was I wanted to win. I felt like we had a great product, and we had a big market to serve. … I wanted to build something lasting and build a great team."

“We continue to be a great Houston story — some of my angel investors in Houston are still benefiting."

— Gill says on AvidXchange's presence in Houston. He adds that he's proud of how his former Strongroom team members have risen through the ranks of the company following the acquisition and that he sees the company, which is still privately held, moving toward IPO.

According to a survey from Houston Exponential, the Bayou City's startup founders see the light at the end of the pandemic's dark tunnel. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

Houston founders optimistic about COVID-19 recovery, survey finds

thinking positive

Given the current economic environment, you might think founders of Houston startups would view the future with a healthy dose of pessimism. But you'd be wrong.

A survey conducted between April 23 and May 7 by Houston Exponential, a nonprofit that promotes the local innovation ecosystem, revealed that Houston startup founders largely see the future through a lens of optimism. For example:

  • More than half of the startups that said they were harmed by the coronavirus pandemic believe they'll begin bouncing back before the end of this year.
  • 70 percent of the startups that said they were hurt by the pandemic believe they'll begin recovering before they run out of cash. "They're saying, 'We're making it through this to the other side, and we're going to be better on the other side," says Bryant Chan, director of product at HX.
  • 80 percent of startups said they planned to add employees within the following 12 months.
  • Two-thirds of startups said they had a funding runway of at least six months.

"Houston is a resilient city, and its agile founders are the most adept at making the best of any situation," HX states in a summary of the survey results.

HX sent the survey to more than 1,000 startup founders in Houston. The survey results include responses from founders of companies with 30 or fewer employees.

Harvin Moore, president of HX, says he wasn't surprised by the generally optimistic outlook of Houston startup founders. In part, that's because local startups as a whole aren't swimming in deep pools of venture capital, according to Moore. Lower valuations lead to lower overhead and shorter cash runways, translating into abundant resilience, he says.

Moore suspects that if a startup founders survey were to be conducted in a VC hotbed like Silicon Valley, "we would probably find less resilience just because there were higher burn rates and, therefore, more dependence on runway."

Chan says startups in Houston hold an advantage over startups in hotspots like Silicon Valley because they're used to practicing "capital efficiency."

"Hopefully, we will maintain that as an advantage," Moore says.

Despite the optimistic elements of the survey results, Houston startups are encountering obstacles. Those include:

  • One-third of startups with at least six employees said they carried out layoffs or furloughs as a result of the pandemic-scarred economy.
  • Thirty percent of startups said they saw contracts fade and revenue shrink because of the pandemic.
  • Nearly one-fifth of startups that said they were raising capital before and during the pandemic saw their valuations decline by 10 percent to 20 percent.

One of the most noteworthy findings in the negative column was that the No. 1 hiring challenge for startups (cited by 21 percent of them) was offering competitive pay.

"Founders are finding talented candidates in Houston, but are unable to meet their salary demands," HX states. "It's common for startups to compensate early employees through company equity in lieu of salary, but with such economic uncertainty, employees may prefer that guaranteed cash and liquidity."

Before the pandemic, the top hiring challenge for Houston startups likely would have been finding the right talent, Chan says.

Despite such challenges, the path ahead for Houston's startup community seems to be pretty smooth, particularly as organizations like HX keep pursuing more access to angel, early stage, and seed funding.

"We have a strong economy, low cost of living — all these things that are solid about Houston and are not going away," Moore says. "We're confident that 2021 will be a great year. 2020 is probably going to be — for most people in Houston, just like around the rest of the country — the year of reimagining and repositioning and recovering. For some companies, it's going to be a huge inflection-point year."

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MassChallenge Texas announces winners for its Houston cohort and doles out $200,000 in prizes

Startup champs

MassChallenge named its winners of its 2020 accelerator at a virtual event on October 22. The program awarded a total of $200,000 in equity-free prizes across seven startups from its second Houston cohort.

This year's program took place completely virtually due to the pandemic. Already, the 56 startups involved in the cohort have raised $44.4 million funding, generated $24 million in revenue, and created 297 jobs, says Jon Nordby, managing director of MassChallenge Texas in Houston, in a news release.

"This has been a year full of change, to say the least," he says. "But startups thrive in uncertain times — because they can move fast and remain agile, they are able quickly meet each new need that arises. I'm extremely proud of the startups in our 2020 cohort — during the course of the program, they've pivoted, adjusted, and evolved in order to grow their businesses."

The startups that won across the Houston cohort included Houston-based PATH EX Inc., which won the $100,000 Diamond Award, is focused on the rapid diagnosis and treatment of sepsis through an unique pathogen extraction platform.

Four companies won $25,000 Gold Awards:

  • Healium, based in Columbia, Missouri, is an extended reality device created for self-management of anxiety.
  • Ozark Integrated Circuits Inc., based in Fayetteville, Arkansas, specializes in problem solving using technology and software in the harshest environments – from jet engines to earth orbit.
  • PREEMIEr Diagnostics, based in Southfield, Michigan, created a way to identify which premature infants need an adjustment to their glucose levels to prevent them from losing vision.
  • Scout Inc., based in Alexandria, Virginia, is developing the first commercial in-space satellite inspection service.

Two companies won the Sidecar Awards, securing each a $25,000 Innospark Artificial Intelligence Prize.

  • Articulate Labs, based in Dallas, makes mobile, adaptive devices to help knee osteoarthritis and knee replacement patients rehabilitate on the go during everyday activity.
  • Houston-based Starling Medical has tapped into tech to optimize urinary catheter for patients with neurogenic bladder dysfunction.
The Houston Angel Network awarded Ozark Integrated Circuits their prize of $50,000.
"The progress these entrepreneurs made in just a few months has all of the hope, drama, anticipation, and optimism of seeing dawn break after a particularly difficult night," says Wogbe Ofori, Principal at 360Approach and a MassChallenge mentor, in the release. "It's fulfilling, actually, and makes me proud to be a MassChallenge mentor."
The seven startups were awarded alongside 27 other startups from this year's Austin, Boston, and Rhode Island accelerators at the virtual event. The event was hosted by Chris Denson of Innovation Crush, and featured a fireside chat between Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, and Linda Pizzuti Henry, managing director at the Boston Globe.
Earlier this fall, MassChallenge named its 10 startup finalists, whittled down from 56 from 13 countries and 13 states to its first-ever virtual accelerator, which began in June.

"In the face of great uncertainty, MassChallenge Texas in Houston charged forward and did exactly what they ask their startups to do: love the problem," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "The successful pivot to virtual is a testament to the strength of their global community and the motivation of the Houston ecosystem to get behind new ideas and create businesses that will set roots and grow here.

"As one of the most innovative cities, Houston is a place where startups can thrive – even in the midst of a pandemic. Programs like MassChallenge provide the best practices and networks to ensure startups get the access they need to create sustainable businesses and lasting change."

5 reasons to get connected with Chile via this virtual event

Listen to the List

It's almost time for the tech and innovation portion of Chile Connected, a nearly month-long virtual event designed to serve as a "matchmaker" for technology firms as well as creative industries, healthy food providers, and women-led businesses.

Sponsored by ProChile, the online convention is an easy — and free — way to meet your next possible collaborator, all from the comfort of home.

To make sure you don't miss your shot at building the next big partnership, here's everything you need to know.

1. The when and where
Chile Connected runs online October 19-November 20, with the tech and innovation panels taking place October 27-29. It's free to attend and you can register here.

2. What to expect
In addition to B2B matchmaking sessions, you can hear Chilean entrepreneurs about about their global innovations in the areas of HealthTech, FinTech, EdTech, and RetailTech. Experts will explore the future of e-commerce, how to empower women in tech, and how healthcare technology is changing in the face of COVID-19.

3. Who'll be there

  • HealthTech: Alberto Rodriguez, president of Levita Magnetic, a company that develops technology through magnets to reduce the need for incisions, invasive surgeries, and scars.
  • RetailTech: Ariel Schilkrut, cofounder of Zippedi Inc. Zippedi is a robot that uses AI to provide services to the retail industry. It includes image recognition and deep learning to create inventories, which improves the efficiency of replenishment processes and the level of service that these companies provide to their customers.
  • EdTech: Komal Dadlani, CEO and cofounder of Lab4U, a company that transforms mobile devices into scientific instruments to democratize access to science, giving the possibility of having a laboratory in your pockets.
  • EdTech: Marisol Alarcón from social de Laboratoria, a company that trains women without higher education as web developers. This undertaking was highlighted by Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama for its contribution to gender equality.
  • Fintech: Cristóbal Forno, founding partner of Global 66, a platform for international money transfers.

But that's just the start — besides the big names from even bigger companies, there will be dozens of people from all over the world looking to network and form partnerships.

4. Why you should consider Chile
Chile is recognized as the most advanced IT market in Latin America, with the IT sector there representing 3.4 percent of its national GDP. Chile is also the 29th largest trading partner of the United States, while America is the No. 1 destination for non-copper goods and service exports from Chile.

5. How Chile benefits you
Most Chilean companies — 53 percent, in fact — are looking for a joint venture or capital to grow into other markets. Chile has been regularly investing not only money but also resources and programs to support new startups and companies. Start-up Chile is one such accelerator; it has vowed to invest $80,000 in an American start-up that will create and develop its idea in Chile.

Reserve your free spot for Chile Connected now.

Equipped with online and in-app ordering, Texas grocer named No. 1 for delivery

DOING MORE

Widely praised for its response to the ongoing pandemic, Texas-based grocery chain H-E-B's cart has once again been filled with kudos.

In a study by market research and mystery shopping firm Ipsos, H-E-B ranked first for grocery delivery among U.S. retailers, with a 99 percent accuracy rate. At No. 2 in the grocery delivery category was Austin-based Whole Foods Market, which achieved a 95 percent accuracy rate.

For the study, mystery shoppers across the country rated various retailers on the quality of their buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS), curbside, and delivery services. Ipsos conducted 150 mystery shops per retailer across these three categories.

"Use of BOPIS and curbside pickup has increased for 78 percent of shoppers since COVID-19 began, and 69 percent expect to continue using it at the same or higher levels after the pandemic subsides," Carlos Aragon, vice president of U.S. channel performance at Ipsos, says in an October 9 release. "As we continue to see the adoption and usage of these new digital offers rise and continue to stick, it is important that brands have the mechanism to ensure they deliver a seamless and safe customer experience for these new users."

To promote social distancing, H-E-B rolled out two-hour delivery in April, eliminating the need for customers to interact.

"With Texans relying on delivery now more than ever, it is our duty to support more of our communities across the state, as quickly as possible," Jag Bath, Favor's CEO and H-E-B's chief digital officer, said in an April release.

To accommodate two-hour delivery for H-E-B customers, Favor undertook a statewide expansion. The grocery chain rolled out its home delivery option in 2018, the same year that H-E-B bought Favor.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.