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.

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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."

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Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

"Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

"We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

"Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

Houston SPAC announces merger with Beaumont-based tech company in deal valued at $100M

speaking of spacs

A Houston SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, has announced the company it plans to merge with in the new year.

Beaumont-based Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc., a provider of thermal imaging platforms, and Houston-based SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: SMAP), a publicly-traded SPAC with $117 million held in trust, announced their agreement for ICI to IPO via SPAC.

Originally announced in the fall of last year, the blank-check company is led by David Gow, CEO and chairman. Gow is also chairman and CEO of Gow Media, which owns digital media outlets SportsMap, CultureMap, and InnovationMap, as well as the SportsMap Radio Network, ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

The deal will close in the first half of 2023, according to a news release, and the combined company will be renamed Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc. and will be listed on NASDAQ under a new ticker symbol.

“ICI is extremely excited to partner with David Gow and SportsMap as we continue to deliver our innovative software and hardware solutions," says Gary Strahan, founder and CEO of ICI, in the release. "We believe our software and sensor technology can change the way companies across industries perform predictive maintenance to ensure reliability, environmental integrity, and safety through AI and machine learning.”

Strahan will continue to serve as CEO of the combined company, and Gow will become chairman of the board. The transaction values the combined company at a pre-money equity valuation of $100 million, according to the release, and existing ICI shareholders will roll 100 percent of their equity into the combined company as part of the transaction.

“We believe ICI is poised for strong growth," Gow says in the release. "The company has a strong value proposition, detecting the overheating of equipment in industrial settings. ICI also has assembled a strong management team to execute on the opportunity. We are delighted to combine our SPAC with ICI.”

Founded in 1995, ICI provides infrared and imaging technology — as well as service, training, and equipment repairs — to various businesses and individuals across industries.

Report: Federal funding, increased life science space drive industry growth in Houston

by the numbers

Federal funding, not venture capital, continues to be the main driver of growth in Houston’s life sciences sector, a new report suggests.

The new Houston Life Science Insight report from commercial real estate services company JLL shows Houston accounted for more than half (52.7 percent) of total funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) across major Texas markets through the third quarter of this year. NIH funding in the Houston area totaled $769.6 million for the first nine months of 2022, exceeding the five-year average by 19.3 percent.

VC funding for Houston’s life sciences sector pales in comparison.

For the first nine months of this year, companies in life sciences raised $147.3 million in VC, according to the report. Based on that figure, Houston is on pace in 2022 to meet or surpass recent life sciences VC totals for most other years except 2021. JLL describes 2021 as an “outlier” when it comes to annual VC hauls for the region’s life sciences companies.

JLL notes that “limited venture capital interest in private industry has remained a challenge for the city’s life sciences sector. Furthermore, it may persist as venture capital strategies are reevaluated and investment strategies shift toward near-term profits.”

While life sciences VC funding has a lot of ground to cover to catch up with NIH funding, there are other bright spots for the sector.

One of those bright spots is the region’s rising amount of life sciences space.

The Houston area boasts more than 2.4 million square feet of space for life sciences operations, with another 1.1 million under construction and an additional 1.5 million square feet on the drawing board, the report says. This includes a soon-to-open lab spanning 25,000 square feet in the first phase of Levit Green.

A second bright spot is the migration of life sciences companies to the region. Two Southern California-based life sciences companies, Cellipoint Bioservices and Obagi Cosmeceuticals, plan to move their headquarters and relocate more than half of their employees to The Woodlands by the first half of 2023, according to the report.

“Houston’s low tax rate and cost of living were primary drivers for the decisions, supported by a strong labor pool that creates advantages for companies’ expansion and relocation considerations,” JLL says.