Trivie has closed a $5 million investment round led by Houston-based Cottonwood Venture Partners. Photo via Trivie.com

A Texas-based tech startup that has created an artificial intelligence-enabled tool that gamifies corporate training and education has closed its most recent funding round thanks to a Houston investor.

Trivie as announced its $5 million series A investment round led by Houston-based Cottonwood Venture Partners, an investment firm that has a portfolio of technology companies that are providing digital solutions within the energy industry. Trivie will use the new funds to scale its product and expand across industries, from energy and manufacturing to hospitality, healthcare, consumer goods, and more.

"The Trivie team's success to date has been remarkable and we are humbled to partner with them to expand Trivie's reach as organizations increasingly look to maximize knowledge retention, particularly as it relates to health and safety," says Jeremy Arendt, managing partner of CVP, in a news release.

Now, as more employees are working from home than ever before, relevant training is crucial and at the top of mind for business leaders. Trivie's clients include Subway, Phillips66, Anheuser-Busch, to name a few.

"At Trivie, our mission is to ensure that every employee at every organization can be at their very best because what they have been taught, they remember, and what they have said is understood," says Lawrence Schwartz, CEO, and co-founder at Trivie, in a news release. "We are extremely excited to partner with Cottonwood Venture Partners to help us expand our footprint in the Fortune 1000 and to continue to execute on that mission."

One of Trivie's founders, Leland Putterman, who is based in Houston, first had the idea for a consumer-facing trivia game 18 years ago. When the app rolled out in 2013, it garnered more than three million downloads. As COVID-19 has brought new compliance guidelines to the forefront of every industry, Trivie was quick to make the CDC's coronavirus guidelines available to all of its clients for no additional charge to be used across their entire employment bases.

Additionally, Trivie prioritizing its user's ability to connect in a time of social distancing and working from home.

"The only way to maintain that company culture and close communication with confidence is to use something like Trivie," Putterman previously tells InnovationMap. "There's no feedback loop right now. The only way to bridge that gap is to have something like Trivie that's the glue."

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

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

VENTURE ADVENTURES

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

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

HighRadius Corp.

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

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

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

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

Read the full story here.

Proeza Ventures

Auto Driving Smart Car image

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

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

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

Read the full story here.

Ambyint

oil and gas

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

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

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

Read the full story here.

vChain Inc.

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

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

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

Read the full story here.

Vivante Health

good intestine health intestine Food for bowel Health

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

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

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

Read the full story here.

Hitched Inc.

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

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

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

Read the full story here.

Houston-based iownit.us secured $4.5 million to grow its platform. Getty Images

Houston investment platform completes a $4.5 million Series A round

Money moves

A Houston-based digital investor infrastructure platform closed an investment round of its own. Iownit Capital and Markets Inc. announced that it has closed a $4.5 million Seed round of funding.

The round was lead by a group of private investors who were not identified in the June 26 release. While iownit.us CEO Rashad Kurbanov has been working on the platform for two years, he still awaits regulatory approval.

"This funding shows the demand for a platform like this in the marketplace, and will be crucial in making sure our platform meets regulatory requirements," Kurbanov says in the release. "We're doing everything we can to get this correct from the very start — unlike many firms who say, 'better to ask for forgiveness than permission,' we ask permission first because we don't want to ever be in a position where we're asking for forgiveness."

The primary function of the funds will go to wrapping up this approval process to insure the company has all of its required licenses. After that's all squared away, the remaining funds will go toward business development and marketing initiatives and technological advancements.

Iownit.us uses private blockchain and ledger technology to transact traditional investment deals securely on its digital platform.

"We realized there's a big section of the overall capital market that has not necessarily been touched by technology, and that's the space of private securities," Kurbanov tells InnovationMap in a previous interview.

Kurbanov says the convoluted process of private securities investment has meant that startup companies are much more likely to focus on receiving funding venture firms, because they want to have a one-stop-shopping experience.

When entrepreneurs add in multiple investors, they end up juggling too much of the logistics side of things, rather than running their company. Iownit's platform, enabled by the JOBS Act, plans to simplify this process, which then allows for a diversity of investments in the ecosystem that's in the past been dominated by huge VCs.

"What we do, and where technology helps us, is we can take the entire process of receiving interest from investors, signing the transactions, issuing the subscription agreements, and processing the payments and put that all online," says Kurbanov.

Think about the power of impact investing this Earth Day. Getty Images

Impact investing is shaping the future of the world, says this Houston expert

Earth day

For almost 50 years, Earth Day has been recognized as the largest civic-focused day of action in the world. Since April 22, 1970, Americans have sought out ways to be stewards of the environment through planting trees, riding a bike to work, or cleaning up a community garden. While these actions are admirable, other strategies and tools are also available that can have a positive impact on the environment.

Investors are getting behind companies that put environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors as priorities in their operations. According to a 2018 survey by the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing and Morgan Stanley Investment Management, 84 percent of respondents are considering or currently pursuing ESG investing.

ESG policies may include issues such as safety policies, human rights, and climate change. These policies may not be part of the traditional financial analysis but can still have financial applications. Investors have the opportunity to financially support and affect change in companies that are taking the lead on ESG policies. This is impact investing. With impact investing, companies and individuals can shape the future with money that is already slated to be invested.

According to the Morgan Stanley survey mentioned above, more than $22.8 trillion is invested sustainably. As the impact investing movement continues to grow, we are seeing an increase in funds dedicated to social and environmental change. According to the 2018 survey, 77 percent of asset owners believe they have a responsibility to address sustainability through investing. And, 31 percent of the respondents said climate change is their leading focus.

If you are interested in incorporating impact investing into your portfolio, the first step is to choose your social and environmental investment criteria. In honor of Earth Day, you may be interested in focusing on green investing in industries or causes such as clean water and alternative energy. Or, you may be interested in investing in corporations that have made strides in environmental sustainability and clean technology.

Next, determine the best way for you to invest. Whether by debt, equity, or assets, impact investing can involve making the kinds of investment decisions that regular investors are generally making anyway, such as buying stocks and bonds in Fortune 500 companies or broadly diversified mutual funds. According to respondents in the Morgan Stanley survey, public equities and real assets, such as infrastructure and real estate, are the most attractive asset classes for sustainable investing.

A common concern with impact investing is whether investing with a strong focus on ESG will give investors a rate of return needed to meet their investment goals (i.e. retirement, college savings). According to a study by the Global Impact Investing Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping break down barriers to impact investing, 82 percent of respondents said their investments made an impact and 76 percent were pleased with the financial performance. Additionally, another 15 percent reported outperformance across each of these dimensions.

As investors are pursuing ESG practices and investments, a large number of companies are continuing to incorporate measures such as water and energy conservation into their ESG policies. Corporate boards and investors are incentivizing their CEOs to provide high-quality, diverse workplaces that lead to greater employee satisfaction, retention, and productivity while having a social and environmental impact. Whether investing in organizations or corporations, impact investing provides a way for investors to tackle big problems with their money. This Earth Day, on Monday, April 22, you can identify investments that can help you achieve your financial goals as well as satisfying your desire to have an impact.

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Dominic Cellitti is a financial adviser with the wealth management division of Morgan Stanley in Houston.

Texas venture capital deals had its first spike in volume last year since 2013. Getty Images

Report finds Houston venture capital firm has made the most Texas deals since 2010

At the top

When it comes to tracking venture capital deals coming out of Texas since 2010, a Houston fund tops the list — but just barely. Houston Angel Network edged out Austin-based Central Texas Angel Network by one deal.

The report by PitchBook counted deals from 2010 up to March 4 that were made with Texas companies. Ten VC funds were listed and, aside from HAN, Mercury Fund was the only other Houston VC. The other eight funds are located central Texas — with the exception of Right Side Capital Management, which has invested in 45 Texas companies since 2010.

"Texas is currently in a transition powered by high-tech investments that lie in contrast to the slow-paced cattle ranches spread throughout the rural areas of the country's 28th state," the report states. "Partly as a result of the relatively new tech scene, Texas was home to three of the 10 fastest-growing cities in the United States in 2018, according to Forbes."

According to the data, VC funding had been on a downward trend since 2013, when the state raked in $2.83 billion in 536 deals. However, 2018 marked a turn for the state with $3.11 billion in 461 deals — a smaller deal count compared to 2013.

Despite this VC deal growth, compared to the rest of the country, Texas ranks fourth when it comes to VC investment market share. California holds over 52 percent of the market, New York has over 10 percent, and Massachusetts has almost 10 percent itself, per PitchBook data. Meanwhile, Texas reportedly holds only 3.43 percent of the market.

PitchBook also identified the top 10 VC deals investing in Texas companies closed since the beginning of 2018 — none of which were into Houston companies. The list's top three had nine-figure investments — Austin-based Bungalo with a $250 million Series A, Dallas-based Peloton Therapeutics with a $150 million Series E, and Richardson, Texas-based Hedera Hashgraph with a $101 million Seed round.

Graph via PitchBook

The stock market has been using tech for years — why shouldn't the private sector have the same convenience? Getty Images

Private securities investment company plans to use tech to simplify the process

Digital upgrade

When private companies are trying to raise capital, it's a pretty antiquated process. You take meeting after meeting, exchange dozens of emails, and then, when it's actually time to make an investment, there's a lot of paperwork to do. Seeing this over complicated way of handling things, Rashad Kurbanov thought introducing technology into the process could help simplify the investing for both sides of the equation.

"What we do, and where technology helps us, is we can take the entire process of receiving interest from investors, signing the transactions, issuing the subscription agreements, and processing the payments and put that all online," says Kurbanov, CEO and co-founder of Houston-based iownit.us.

Iownit has been in the works for about 18 months now, and has major growth plans, which includes hiring over a dozen new employees focused on tech and support.

The company is still seeking regulatory approval, but once that happens, the technology and platform will be ready to launch. The platform is a digital site that connects investors to companies seeking money. The investors can review the companies and contribute all online while being encrypted and protected by blockchain.

Diversifying the investment ecosystem
Kurbanov says the convoluted process of private securities investment has meant that startup companies are much more likely to focus on receiving funding venture firms, because they want to have a one-stop-shopping experience. When entrepreneurs add in multiple investors, they end up juggling too much of the logistics side of things, rather than running their company. Iownit's platform simplifies this process, which then allows for a diversity of investments in the ecosystem that's in the past been dominated by huge VCs.

Another way to look at it is that when it comes to investments, public investments has operated in a digital way for years — think of the stock market, for instance. But the private market has been limited to a small amount of accredited investors. The Jobs Act put into effect by Congress in 2012 changed the game a little bit, but the tech hasn't played a role yet.

"We realized there's a big section of the overall capital market that has not necessarily been touched by technology, and that's the space of private securities," Kurbanov says.

Reaching out to underserved communities
Kurbanov is based in New York, but he chose to start his company in Houston because, being focused on diversifying investments, he saw a huge opportunity when you move away from either coast. Houston has a strong corporate environment, access to capital, and great universities, says Kurbanov, but when it comes to the startup companies, it's not as proportional as it is on the East and West Coasts.

"Our goal is to put our technology and platform in use to support the capital formation in the entrepreneurial ecosystems that today don't have easy access to capital."

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Overheard: Master P shares his entrepreneurial advice at Houston Tech Rodeo kickoff

eavesdropping in Houston

Percy Miller developed his music career as Master P, but it's far from his only entrepreneurial endeavor. At Houston Exponential's kick-off event for the 2021 Houston Tech Rodeo, Miller took the virtual stage with Zack O'Malley Greenburg, a journalist and author.

In the discussion, Miller shared his experience in his many fields of entrepreneurship, including music, fashion, consumer packaged goods, and more. He focused on trusting your own hard work, surrounding yourself with a good support system, and embracing failure — something he's done throughout his career.

"I don't look at it as a loss. I look at it as a lesson. Every 'L' is a lesson," he says. "Every time I had a business fail, I learned something from it and it opened up a door into a future."

To hit the highlights from the fireside chat with Master P, check out some overheard moments below. To stream the full broadcast, click here.

“A music career only lasts 3 to 5 years at the most. … I started diversifying my portfolio and I looked at the tech side and said, ’This is where you got to be at.’”

Miller says he was out in the Bay Area in the '90s and early '00s, and he saw first hand the tech scene developing in Silicon Valley. He even released an album in 2005 called Ghetto Bill, a reference to Bill Gates.

“I have failed a lot — don’t be afraid to fail. Get out and take that chance on yourself.”

Miller's music career mirrors, in some ways, the dynamic path of a startup. He received a $10,000 investment from his grandparents and used it to launch his career.

"I created an empire with $10,000," he says.

But It wasn't always easy, and Miller remembers the hustle, selling his music from the trunk of his car, and his many failures.

“You have to be committed to what you do — and you have to love it. It never was about money. When you’re passionate about something, you have a purpose. You’ll get there. If you do it for money, you’ll probably never be successful.”

Passion is a key ingredient in the recipe for success, Miller explains. It drives accomplishment and, "if you get it that easy, you'll probably lose it even quicker," he continues.

“I have an entrepreneurial spirit — I have to learn everything about what I’m doing.”

When it came to developing his music career, Miller says he wore every different hat in the process because he knew he would work the hardest.

"For me, if I can be the talent and the person who runs the company, I feel like there's no limit," Miller says. "I knew I could depend on myself."

“Show me your friends, and I can show you your future.”

Miller started his own record label, No Limit Records, and it was here he cultivated an environment of artists who didn't just want to perform, get pampered, and hang out at the club.

"People at No Limit — it was like a university," he says. "Everybody was coming to study to not only learn how to be an artist but also learn entrepreneurship and financial literacy."

“Most people wanted that advanced check, that money upfront. But my thing was I wanted the control in the end. When you come from a poor culture, you look at things differently. At least I did.”

Miller says he learned this at a young age, that if you hold the power, you make the decisions. "I want better for my kids and the only way I am going to do that is by creating longevity where I own the largest percent of the company," he says.

“It’s all about economic empowerment — we’re stronger together.”

Miller says he's focused on product and taking over the grocery stores, as well as driving economic empowerment for other BIPOC-founded companies and putting money back into the community.

"I want to focus on other minority-owned companies and brands get their products on the shelves,' he says.

Experts: Houston can win in the energy transition — here's how

Guest column

President Joe Biden recently announced his 2030 goal for the United States to achieve a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from its 2005 levels. This announcement comes on the heels of the American Jobs Plan, a $2 trillion infrastructure and climate-response program which offers a host of energy- and climate change-related initiatives, including a plan to speed up the conversion of the country to carbon-free electricity generation by 2035.

To reach these goals, companies of all industries are looking to implement clean energy investments and practices and do so quickly. Perhaps more than any major city in America, Houston faces fundamental questions about its economy and its future in the global Energy Transition. Some 4,600 energy companies, including more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies, serve as the foundation of the city's economy.

While many of these are working in the renewables space, the vast majority are rooted in fossil fuels. Many in Houston have long been anticipating this move towards renewables, but the new executive position on emissions has brought renewed pressure on Houston to take action and put investments behind securing its position as the Energy Capital of the World.

Houston's energy transition status

There has been an uptick in Energy Transition activity in Houston over the past several years. Currently, Houston boasts at least 100 solar energy-related companies and 30 wind energy-related companies. Environmental Entrepreneurs ranked Houston seventh among the top 50 U.S. metro areas for clean energy employment in the fourth quarter of 2019, with 1.9 percent of all clean energy jobs in the U.S. In 2019, Houston had 56,155 clean energy jobs, up nearly 4 percent from 2018, according to E2. However, by comparison, there are roughly 250,000 fossil fuel jobs in the area. (S&P Global)


Many traditional oil and gas companies have embraced this change, pivoting to more sustainable and resilient energy solutions. Companies working in tangentially related industries, like finance, infrastructure and services, are beginning to understand their role in the Energy Transition as well.

The challenge

While the Bayou City's proximity to the bay and natural oil supply may have set the scene for Houston's Energy Capital Status, the same geographic advantages do not exist in this new renewable space. As many have already begun to realize – Houston companies must make a concerted and timely effort to expend their focus to include renewables.

Greater Houston Partnership recently launched a new initiative aimed at accelerating Houston's activity around energy transition, while existing committees will continue efforts to bring energy tech and renewable energy companies to Houston. This initiative will bolster Houston's smart city efforts, explore the policy dimensions of carbon capture, use, and storage, and advocate for legislation that helps ensure the Texas Gulf Coast is positioned as a leader in that technology.

The Partnership estimates the city has seen $3.7 billion dollars of cleantech venture funding in recent years. Still, the infrastructure and services sector of the Energy Transition is vastly underinvested in, especially when compared to the tens of billions in the more traditional sector.

The opportunity

Houston, and the energy markets specifically, have always been great at raising capital and deploying it. The energy companies and capital needed to support them will continue to be in Houston as the energy markets transition to renewable sources in addition to fossil fuels.

The job opportunities in Houston and new energy are going to be significant. Texas is well suited to fit these needs as the technical skillset from fossil fuels to renewables is highly transferable. Given the technical expertise needed to manage energy—whether it's oil, gas or renewables—Houston and Texas will always have the universities here that feed the technical skills needed in energy.

Houston has always done a great job at attracting energy companies and related businesses to move their headquarters here or open and office in the area. Additionally, offering proper training opportunities for both oil and gas and renewable energy jobs has a proven track record of spurring growth and attracting talent to our area.

All of this, combined with a concerted effort from investors willing to double down on the sectors of solar, storage, electric vehicles and energy management sectors are critical. With swifter growth for jobs in the renewable space and incentivization of the next generation of energy companies, Houston can forge a clear path towards the "New Energy Capital of the World."

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Eric Danziger and Jordan Frugé are managing directors at Houston-based Riverbend Energy Group.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — sports tech, energy, and more — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Lawson Gow, founder of The Cannon

Lawson Gow is bullish on Houston becoming a sports tech hub. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Is Houston the next hub for sports tech innovation? Lawson Gow thinks so.

"Sports tech is a thing we can win at. There's no global hub for sports tech — so Houston can do that," Gow says. "We've always had that in our heads as a direction we want the city to head down, so it just makes it so opportunistic to create a space for that kind of innovation at work for the city."

The founder of Houston coworking company, The Cannon, announced last week plans for a sports tech hub in partnership with Braun Enterprises and Gow Media (InnovationMap's parent company). Click here to read more.

Kate Evinger, director of gBETA Houston

Kate Evinger joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the latest from gBETA Houston. Photo courtesy of gBETA

Most accelerators are focused on growing startups in a specific way toward a specific goal. For gBETA Houston, that goal is toward a new round of funding or another accelerator, says Kate Evinger, director of gBETA Houston on last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"We look at early-stage companies, so those that are pre-seed or seed-stage that are looking for mentorship or support," Evinger says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, "and we help get to that next step whether that's to raise an upcoming round or if they are looking to get into an equity-based accelerator program."

Evinger shares more details on the ongoing cohort on the episode. Click here to read more and stream the show.

Michael Lee, CEO of Octopus Energy US

A $2.23 million deal means a growing presence Texas for Octopus Energy. Photo via LinkedIn

A United Kingdom-founded energy company has expanded yet again in the Texas market. Octopus Energy announced the acquisition of Houston-based Brilliant Energy last week, and it's a huge opportunity for the company says Octopus Energy's United States CEO Michael Lee.

"This is a major moment for us, as we work to bring our 100% renewable energy supply and outstanding technology to more Texans and their homes," he says. Click here to read more.