Last year, Roboze announced its American headquarters in Houston. Now the company is announcing something big. Photo courtesy of Roboze

An Italian-American manufacturer of 3D parts and printers with its U.S. headquarters in Houston is touting what's billed as a first-of-its-kind innovation — an innovation that's helping drive the need for more local workers.

Roboze recently introduced Roboze Automate, and it's being promoted as the world's first industrial automation system to bring customized 3D printing with super polymers and composites into the production workflow.

"As the need for strong, resilient infrastructure in the U.S. and around the world continues to climb, we are bringing 3D manufacturing to a new level of consistency, repeatability, and process control and production speed," Alessio Lorusso, founder and CEO of Roboze, says in an April 12 news release. "Our components-as-a-service approach is upending error-ridden manufacturing fluctuations and materials shortages to support true industrial-scale 3D manufacturing."

Roboze cranks out 3D-printed parts for customers in industries like aerospace and aviation, energy, oil and gas, transportation, defense, and research. It also sells 3D printers to industrial users. Among its customers are aerospace giant Airbus, appliance manufacturer Bosch, industrial conglomerate GE, defense contractor Leonardo, Pennsylvania State University, consumer electronics titan Sony, the U.S. Army, and the University of Colorado.

Last year, Roboze announced it was establishing its U.S. headquarters in Houston to support its U.S. rollout. The company employs 10 people in the U.S. The local operation, at 7934 Breen Dr. in Northwest Houston, features more than 20 industrial-scale 3D printers.

In February, Roboze said it plans to add 100 employees in the U.S. within the next two years; 30 of those new hires are expected to join the company this spring. The new employees will work in areas such as engineering, sales, and marketing. As of April 13, the Roboze website listed a dozen job openings in Houston and nine in Italy. Around the world, Roboze employs nearly 100 people.

"Houston ranks as one of the top U.S. cities for manufacturing plants and industrial employment, and [is] home to exciting scientific initiatives at the Houston Spaceport and Rice University," Lorusso, who now lives in Houston, said in February.

Tim Neal, CEO of Houston-based GoExpedi, shares how his company plans to scale following its recent series C closing. Photo by Colt Melrose for GoExpedi

With fresh funds, this Houston entrepreneur plans to scale his industrial e-commerce startup

q&a

Consumers are getting more and more used to picking up their laptops or phones and ordering everyday items in just a few clicks or taps — and seeing those items delivered in just a few days. To Tim Neal, CEO of Houston-based GoExpedi, ordering parts and tools for industrial businesses should be just as easy.

GoExpedi, which just closed a $25 million series C round, has seen rising demand for its e-commerce platform focused on industrial orders, and Neal credits this demand on a change in mindset within the industrial sector. Additionally, he says he's seen clients more and more focused on cutting costs.

Neal shared his company's plans for growth and scale, as well as how fundraising during a pandemic went, in an interview with InnovationMap.

InnovationMap: What’s the challenge GoExpedi was founded to change and what’s the game changing element the company provides the industry?

Tim Neal: We really focus on the industrial MRO space. The mission for us is to make procurement of these goods simple and efficient. That means taking out the human process and the back and forth. It's not too dissimilar to how, if I order from Amazon, I have an expectation when that order arrives. The industry has not historically had that. So, we wanted to take a tech-first approach, really make sure people getting these things, but then also track what they're spending to help them more effectively run their business.

IM: What were the early days like?

TN: We're a bootstrap business. We had a drive our pick up trucks 3,000 miles a week, not taking salaries. There was a uphill battle for sure in the beginning because it was a psychological shift. Again, if you look at Amazon going in the bookseller market, people were used to going in a store and getting books. It's similar. People are used to picking up the phone and getting an order done. So we had to really go through an evolutionary process of educating the user on what is the technology and how the technology is actually make their life easier.

IM: What do you attribute GoExpedi's growth to?

TN: I really think it's the change in psychology. And a lot of it is timing too. The labor pool in the oil and gas space in particular — 50 percent of it turn it over. Now you're no longer having these tradesmen who are 60-plus years old and walking encyclopedias. You have a younger workforce that's used to buying on eCommerce and their daily life. So, it's helping them by technical parts in a not technical way. We just had a pool of clients who were more tech native and who had more familiarity with transacting online.

IM: You recently closed a Series C round — what was it like fundraising during a global pandemic following the fall in oil prices?

TN: It's a little weird, cause I'm used to doing road shows — spending four days in San Francisco or New York meeting a bunch of people, rather than sitting in my office on Zoom. So it was a little weird, in that sense that you didn't shake people's hands.

We were in a fortunate position — it's kind of counterintuitive — but we really decoupled from the COVID-energy side where you've got a double whammy, especially in Houston. COVID put people on a remote basis, and then you've got negative oil for the first time ever. But what that did is it really presented this psychological shift in our end user. Companies reduced their traffic 30-plus percent and had to lay off people. They're focusing on cost saving and how do you grab a hold of your business, especially in this work from home environment. And that really resonates with our value proposition. With that, we were able to get a lot of demand of people wanting to have live analytics at their house and see what the net assets are spending. And then we'd be able to get manager reports on benchmark expenditure. We saw a big push in the market there.

IM: How are you enhancing and expanding your technology or team with the funds?

TN: We're seeing massive amount of market demand — folks really being able to fully capture that and start hiring more talent. But, the big focus for us is twofold. One is on our technologies. We have a tool center that really helps bridge the operational transactions at the field level and the management kind of reporting workflows, so really working on our technology, increasing our machine learning and our AI usage, and building out that team. But then on the supply chain side, because we're getting more demand, we want to focus on increasing the efficiency with adding robotics to make sure we can get even more packages out quicker to the market.

IM: Do you plan on expanding into other industries or markets?

TN: We've gotten a ton of demand, and we've been serving some markets to due to demand. We just hired a strategy team and we're making a really concentrated effort to — probably in Q1 — go after some other adjacent industrial markets, because we have a very similar dynamic that buying in terms of corporate structures, demand drivers and value proposition. That's a big focus for us.

IM: Do you already have plans for another round?

TN: We're still very well capitalized now. We weren't out of money, and we still had a large amount of cash from the last round, so this was more an opportunistic approach because we were seeing good market demand that we raised right now to further capture that. I wouldn't be surprised if, in the next 18 to 24 months, we raise again.

IM: What has it meant for y’all to be based in Houston?

TN: I'm from New Jersey, and I always kind of had a different view of Houston until I actually moved here. But, Houston is going to be the third biggest city. It's got a massive labor pool, great universities, and it should be a great breeding ground for talent. The other thing is that, since we started in 2017, I'm seeing a big shift in Houston as a whole, especially from an innovation standpoint — you have Station Houston, The Cannon, and others. You see more entrepreneurial spirit than you've seen in San Francisco and others.

I think the biggest shift that I've seen even the last three years, and especially now with COVID, is where people coming out of college in Houston want to work. I went to Oregon for college — all my friends are in San Francisco pretty much. When we got out of college, I saw people wanting to work for a startup. But in Houston, it was, "I want to work for Oxy or Shell — a big corporate." But that's shifting. We're getting a lot of younger talent that want to work in a startup. They now see that startups work in Houston and that it's a good career path.

------

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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

New Houston-based fund raises $50 million to back mobility startups

Making money

A new venture capital fund has mobility on the mind — and it's just raised $50 million to support startups working on solutions in the mobility or mobility-related industries.

Proeza Ventures, which is based in Houston and Monterrey, Mexico, reportedly closed its first fund Proeza Ventures I. 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.

"Our mission is to discover and invest in visionary founders building early stage startups transforming the way in which we think about mobility and with whom we can partner to make a more sustainable world," says Rodolfo Dieck, managing director at Proeza Ventures, in a news release.

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.

"We expect to be writing first time checks in the range of $500,000 and up to $2 million reserving enough capital to support companies in their development trajectory," says Dieck in the release.

Rodolfo Dieck, managing director, (left) and Enrique Marcelo Zambrano, principal, lead the fund. Photo via proezaventures.com

Grupo Proeza comes with a network of experts. The company owns Metalsa, a structural automotive products supplier and current market leader in frames for light trucks in North America, per the release. The subsidiary has more than 60 years of global manufacturing and operating experience within the industry.

The group will use its platform to benefit startups within its portfolio, which already includes Boston-based Indigo Technologies that's developing an in-wheel e-motor and a California-based micro mobility company that is disrupting the scooter ecosystem.

"We back entrepreneurs with an ambitious vision and the grit and operational skills to execute their business plan and transform the sectors they participate in," says Enrique Marcelo Zambrano, principal at P.V., in the release. "We expect to help them leverage our deep expertise in mobility, our unique platform and network."

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

Houston-based digital marketplace for industrial equipment raises $5.5 million series A

money moves

A Houston startup that acts as a digital marketplace for industrial equipment in the oil and gas and construction industries closed a sizeable series A financing round this month.

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.

"It is encouraging to see the support and excitement from CVP," Hitched's Founder and CEO Adam Gilles says in a press release. "With this Series A funding, we plan to continue to shake things up in the oil & gas, construction, and industrial industries."

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.

According to the release, Hitched will use the fresh funds to advance its product development and customer experience as it continues "to reinvent the industrial rental marketplace."

"We're delighted to partner with the Hitched team. The industrial rental segment is incredibly opaque and riddled with inefficiencies," says Ryan Gurney, managing partner of CVP, in the news release. "The Hitched platform provides both a transparent marketplace and an important management tool that allows both the renter and rentee to optimize rental inventory."

Cognite is opening two offices in Texas. Getty Images

European software company plans first U.S. office in Houston

New to town

When considering entering the United States market, Francois Laborie, general manager of Cognite North Americas, of course considered some of the obvious cities for a regional headquarters.

"Initially, when we talked about the US, people assumed Silicon Valley or Boston, because we are a traditional software company," Laborie says. "But we really didn't consider too long because the customers we work with require a pretty deep understanding of industry."

The Norway-based company decided to bet on the energy capital of the world and has announced future offices in Houston as well as Austin — both to open by this summer. This will be Cognite's first expansion outside of Northern Europe. The company makes data software for industrial businesses — oil and gas being a huge focus, as is engineering, equipment manufacturing, shipping, and more.

"The industrial world is very siloed and closed, and we are changing a lot of things in that world," Laborie says. "In the digital world, data and information only becomes valuable as you share it. We are all about liberating data, contextualizing it, and then drawing value out of it."

Laborie says the Houston office will be the company's energy hub — both current and prospective clients of Cognite have pressences in town. Meanwhile, Austin will be the tech hub, since the city has a large tech talent pool. Currently, Austin is on the path to be the U.S. headquarters, but nothing is set in stone at the moment, Laborie says.

Cognite, which expects around 50 employees (both new hires and relocations) split between the two locations, already has strategic Houston partnerships in place. Cognite will operate out of Station Houston and even has an internship program and partnership with Rice University. Overall, Laborie says the reception of the city has been positive.

"Houston went above and beyond," Laborie says. "The relationship with Rice has been very interesting because they are working closely with the Houston municipality to transform this image of Houston to get a stronger driver on innovation with the Innovation District, which spoke very loudly to us."

These partnerships are a crucial party of the company, Laborie says, and Cognite plans to work within Houston's innovation ecosystem to continue to push the envelope on innovative technologies.

"We have partnerships with large corporations, but we also see the importance to work with smaller companies to drive innovation — even if they aren't directly related," Laborie says.

Lori-Lee Emshey's Future Sight AR is revolutionizing antiquated construction tools using augmented reality. Courtesy of Future Sight AR

Houston company has sight set on AR solutions for industrial construction

Visual aid

When Lori-Lee Emshey got her first oil and gas construction job in Australia, she was carrying around a backpack full of papers.

"I was really shocked at how much work they were doing with such little technology," Emshey says. "I thought, 'there's so much room for innovation here.'"

She realized that it wasn't just that site or the company she was working for — this was a problem across the industry. So, she came up with a solution. Houston-based Future Sight AR is an augmented reality technology to more efficient work on industrial construction sites. Workers can use a smart device in the field, point it at a problem on site, log the issue, and see the steps needed to fix it.

Constructing a company
Emshey realized the potential for a company in January 2016. Since then, she's partnered up with her co-founders, Sofia Lazaro and Veena Somareddy, attended accelerators and conferences across the country, completed a proof of concept, until finally incorporated this year.

It was a well-paced start for the company because they got to prove time and time again there was a need for the company. Emshey says she never wanted to start a company just to start a company. They worked tirelessly at the beginning to ensure there was no one out there already doing this in the way they were doing it.

"I feel like a lot of entrepreneurs now become an entrepreneur because it's trendy and cool, and you want to put it in your Instagram bio," she says. "The three of us aren't like that. We did this because we had to. It wasn't going to get done another way, and we couldn't let this giant opportunity float on by."

Once they got a firm footing, one of the challenges they faced was communicating the company's market need and how the technology works to individuals outside the industry. For Emshey, this was particularly annoying.

"I came from a journalism background, and it's storytelling," she says. "I thought, 'I should be able to do this.'"

Something eventually just clicked, and Emshey stopped seeing confused faces in response to her presentation, and she started seeing more head nodding. However, another challenge she says she occasionally faces is how she looks.

"It is tough. I'm pitching this industrial construction startup, and I show up and I'm a 5-foot-5 blond woman," she says. "And some people don't care, and some people would prefer I looked a different way."

Foreseeing the company's future
Raising capital has been the latest focus for Future Sight AR. Aside from some grants and accelerator money, the company hasn't raised much. They've only just started meeting with investors and have a plan to launch a round of fundraising next year. Emshey also says they are looking to partner with three companies to conduct a few pilots early next year.

It's a great time in technology for Future Sight AR as more and more people are using AR and virtual reality. People use AR or VR often — in SnapChat filters or through Pokemon Go!

Emshey says she thinks VR will grow first in gaming, while AR will take off through enterprise.

"Unlike VR when you're completely immersed, in AR, you're seeing your actual environment and one of the places you have to do that is at work," Emshey says.

Whether it's through being acquired or growing the company on its own, Emshey says she wants Future Sight AR to evolve the industry as a whole.

"If we could permanently change the way that we build projects — oil and gas or another industry — and move it toward something more efficient, safer, more productive, and a better experience for workers, and accomplish that in a permanent way in a permanent way, then we're successful," she says. "We really built this for me — I was the worker out in the field trying to do things, and it was unnecessarily difficult."

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston startup secures big contract, coworking company acquired, and more local innovation news

short stories

Houston is starting 2022 strong in terms of innovation news, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, the Bayou City is ranked based on its opportunities for STEM jobs, a Houston blockchain startup scores a major contract, Rice University opens applications for its veteran-owned busineess competition, and more.

Data Gumbo announces contract with Equinor

After a successful pilot, Equinor has signed off on a contract with Data Gumbo.. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

Houston-based Data Gumbo, an industrial blockchain-software-as-a-service company, announced that it has signed a contract with Equinor. The global energy company's venture arm, Equinor Ventures, supported the startup's $7.7 million series B round, which closed last year.

The company's technology features smart contract automation and execution, which reduces contract leakage, frees up working capital, enables real-time cash and financial management, and delivers provenance with unprecedented speed, accuracy, visibility and transparency, per the release.

“Equinor is an industry trailblazer, demonstrating the true value of our international smart contract network to improve and automate manual processes, and bring trust to all parties,” says Andrew Bruce, founder and CEO of Data Gumbo, in a news release. “Smart contracts are playing a critical role in driving the energy industry forward. Our work with Equinor clearly demonstrates the benefits that supermajors and their supply chain customers, partners and vendors experience by automating commercial transactions. We are proud to continue our work with Equinor to help them realize the savings, efficiencies and new levels of transparency available through our smart contract network.”

Equinor opted into a pilot with the company a few years ago.

“Since piloting Data Gumbo’s smart contracts for offshore drilling services in 2019, we have worked with the company to continually refine and improve use cases. We now have the potential to expand Data Gumbo’s smart contract network to enable transactional certainty across our portfolio from the Norwegian Continental Shelf to our Brazilian operated assets and beyond,” says Erik Kirkemo, senior vice president at Equinor. “GumboNet reduces inefficiencies and processing time around contract execution in complex supply chains, which is a problem in the broader industry, and we look forward to realizing the streamlined process and cost savings of its rapidly expanding smart contract network.”

WeWork acquires Dallas coworking brand with 6 Houston locations

Common Desk, which has six locations in Houston including in The Ion, has been acquired. Photo courtesy of Common Desk

Dallas-based Common Desk, which has six locations in Houston, announced its acquisition by WeWork. The company's office spaces will be branded as “Common Desk, a WeWork Company,” according to a news release.

“Similar to WeWork, Common Desk is a company built on the concept of bringing people together to have their best day at work," says Nick Clark, CEO at Common Desk, in the release. "With the added support from WeWork, Common Desk will be able to not only leverage WeWork’s decade of experience in member services to improve the experience of our own members but also leverage WeWork’s impressive client roster to further build out our member base.”

Here are the six Common Desk spaces in Houston:

Here's how Houston ranks as a metro for STEM jobs

Source: WalletHub

When it comes to the best cities for jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math, Houston ranks in the middle of the pack. The greater Houston area ranked at No. 37 among the 100 largest metros across 19 key metrics on the list compiled by personal finance website, WalletHub. Here's how Houston fared on the report's metrics:

  • No. 36 – percent of Workforce in STEM
  • No. 74 – STEM Employment Growth
  • No. 43 – Math Performance
  • No. 16 – Quality of Engineering Universities
  • No. 2 – Annual Median Wage for STEM Workers (Adjusted for Cost of Living)
  • No. 90 – Median Wage Growth for STEM Workers
  • No. 75 – Job Openings for STEM Graduates per Capita
  • No. 88 – Unemployment Rate for Adults with at Least a Bachelor’s Degree

Elsewhere in Texas, Austin ranked at No. 2 overall, and Dallas just outranked Houston coming in at No. 34. San Antonio, El Paso, and McAllen ranked No. 51, No. 65, and No. 88, respectively.

Rice University calls for contestants for its 8th annual startup pitch competition for veterans

Calling all veteran and active duty startup founders and business owners. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University is now accepting applications from Houston veterans for its annual business competition. To apply for the 2022 Veterans Business Battle, honorably discharged veterans or active duty founders can head online to learn more and submit their business plan by Feb. 15.

“We’re looking forward to giving veterans the opportunity not just to share their ideas and get financing, but learn from other past winners the lessons about entrepreneurship they’ve lived through while growing their businesses,” event co-chair Reid Schrodel says in a news release.

Over the past few years, finalists have received more than $4 million of investments through the program. This year's monetary prizes add up to $30,000 — $15,000 prize for first place, $10,000 for second place, and $5,000 for third place.

Finalists will be invited to make their business pitch April 22 and 23 at Rice University. Click here to register for the event.

City of Houston receives grant to stimulate STEM opportunities

Houston's youth population is getting a leg up on STEM opportunities. Photo via Getty Images

Thanks to a $150,000 grant from the National League of Cities, the city of Houston has been awarded a chance to provide quality education and career opportunities to at-risk young adults and students. The city is one of five cities also selected to receive specialized assistance from NLC’s staff and other national experts.

“This award is a big win for young people. They will benefit from significant career development opportunities made possible by this grant,” says Mayor Sylvester Turner in a news release. “These are children who would otherwise go without, now having experiences and connections they never thought possible. I commend the National League of Cities for their continued commitment to the future leaders of this country.”

According to the release, the grant money will support the Hire Houston Youth program by connecting diverse opportunity youth to the unique STEM and technology-focused workforce development.

"Our youth deserve educational opportunities that connect them to the local workforce and career exploration, so they can make informed choices about their future career path in Houston’s dynamic economy. Houston youth will only further the amazing things they will accomplish, thanks to this grant," says Olivera Jankovska, director of the Mayor's Office of Education.

Houston software startup raises $12.5M series B

money moves

Houston-based Codenotary, whose technology helps secure software supply chains, has raised $12.5 million in a series B round. Investors in the round include Swiss venture capital firm Bluwat and French venture capital firm Elaia.

The $12.5 million round follows a series A round that was announced in 2020, with total funding now at $18 million.

Codenotary, formely known as vChain, says the fresh round of money will be used to accelerate product development, and expand marketing and sales worldwide. Today, the startup has 100-plus customers, including some of the world’s largest banks.

Codenotary’s co-founders are CEO Moshe Bar and CTO Dennis Zimmer. They started the company in 2018.

Bar co-founded Qumranet, which developed the Linux KVM hypervisor. A hypervisor creates and runs virtual machines. Software provider Red Hat purchased Qumranet in 2008 for $127 million. Before that, he founded hypervisor company XenSource, which cloud computing company Citrix Systems bought in 2007 for $500 million.

“Codenotary offers a solution which allows organizations to quickly identify and track all components in their DevOps cycle and therefore restore trust and integrity in all their myriad applications,” Pascal Blum, senior partner at Bluwat, says in a news release.

The SolarWinds software supply chain hack in 2020 and the more recent emergence of Log4j vulnerabilities have brought the dangers of software lifecycle attacks to the forefront, Bar says. Now, he says, more and more companies are looking for ways to prove the legitimacy of the software that they produce.

Codenotary is the primary contributor to immudb, the an open-source, enterprise-class database with data immutability, or stability, designed to meet the demands of highly used applications.

Dallas-based ridesharing app gears up for expansion across Houston and beyond

HOUSTON INNOVATOR PODCAST EPISODE 118

Before he started his current job, Winston Wright would have thought a startup attempting to compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft was going to fight an uphill battle. Now, he sees how much opportunity there is in the rideshare market.

Wright is the Houston general manager for Alto, a Dallas-based company that's grown its driving service platform into five markets — first from Dallas into Houston and then to Los Angeles, Miami, and, most recently, Washington D.C. Alto's whole goal is to provide reliability and improve user experience.

"We're elevating ridesharing," Wright says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "With Alto, you get a consistent, safe experience with. a high level of hospitality. And that's a key differentiator for us in the market, and we're able to replicate that time and time again."

Wright, whose background is in sales and operations in hospitality, says his vision for alto in Houston is to expand the service — which operates in the central and western parts of the city — throughout the greater Houston area.

"The vision I have for this market is that, as we move forward and continue to expand, that we're covering all of Houston," he says.

This will mean expanding the company's physical presence too. Alto recently announced its larger space in Dallas, and now the Houston operations facility will grow its footprint too.

Wright says he's also focused on growing his team. Over the past two years, pandemic notwithstanding, the company has maintained hiring growth. Alto's drivers are hired as actual employees, not contractors, so they have access to benefits and paid time off.

The company, which raised $45 million in its last round of investment, is expanding next to the Silicon Valley area, followed by three to five more markets in 2022. Then, by the end of 2023, it's Alto's mission to have a completely electronic fleet of vehicles.

"Our goal is to have over 3,000 EV cars and be the first company with a 100 percent electric fleet by 2023," Wright says.

Wright shares more on Alto's future in Texas and beyond, as well as what's challenging him most as he grows the team locally. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.