This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Jai Shah of Kahuna, Cindy Taff of Sage Geosystems, and Patrick Flam of Revterra. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: Each week, I'm introducing you to three Houston innovators to know — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Jai Shah, CEO of Kahuna Workforce Solutions

Kahuna CEO Jai Shah shares how he plans on deploying the $21 million his Houston company just raised. Photo courtesy of Kahuna

With a recent $21 million series B funding round set to fuel more growth and expand an impressive client roster, Kahuna Workforce Solutions is riding a big wave into 2024.

CEO Jai Shah tells InnovationMap that the Houston skills management software service company’s Hawaiian name captures their style.

“Kahuna is that kind of expert, competent leader in a tribe or family,” Jai says. “That’s all because we had this concept of really wanting to be providing a very..family-oriented consulting approach. Treat our customers like family, and with respect, love and really just try and deliver on that promise.” Continue reading.

Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

Cindy Taff of Sage Geosystems explains why she's so optimistic about geothermal and her company's technology. Photo courtesy of Sage

Geothermal energy is an integral part of decarbonizing the energy industry, and Sage Geosystems CEO Cindy Taff believes her company's tech has what it takes to lead the way.

Founded in Houston in 2020, Sage Geosystems is focused on two business lines — energy storage and geothermal. In addition to developing these technologies, Taff says Sage has "cracked the code" on both reducing costs and maximizing electricity output. Sage has customers ranging from Nabors, the world’s largest land-based drilling company, and Virya LLC, an investor in climate ventures with high impact of eliminating global greenhouse gas emissions or sequestering CO2. Continue reading.

Patrick Flam, CFO of Revterra

Revterra was selected from among 10 finalists receiving up to $1 million piloting opportunities. Photo via ADNOC

Revterra, which produces novel batteries made from recycled steel, has been awarded a million-dollar piloting opportunity by ADNOC following a global competition. The ADNOC Decarbonization Technology Challenge, in collaboration with AWS, bp, Hub71, and the Net Zero Technology Centre, sought to find emerging climate tech innovations that are ready for scale.

At the event in Dubai, Revterra was selected from among 10 finalists receiving up to $1 million piloting opportunities. In addition to the $1 million, they will gain access to facilities and expertise at the ADNOC Research and Innovation Center in Abu Dhabi.

“We are thrilled to win this opportunity,” Patrick Flam, CFO of Revterra, says in a news release. “At Revterra, we have developed an environmentally friendly battery that doesn’t rely on metals like lithium, nickel, or cobalt.” Continue reading.

Nine Houston startups ended 2023 with a fundraise. Photo via Getty Images

These 9 Houston startups start 2024 with fresh funding

q4 2023 vc activity

Houston startups ended 2023 with a flurry of funding news — from several seeds and series As to series C rounds and extensions.

Here are nine Houston startups that secured funding in the fourth quarter of last year, according to reporting by InnovationMap. For further reading, here were 2023's top rounds raised.

Amperon Holdings Inc. closed its $20 million series B in October

It's payday for a startup that's improving analytics for its energy customers. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston startup has raised $20 million in its latest round of funding in order to accelerate its energy analytics and grid decarbonization technology.

Amperon Holdings Inc. announced today that it closed its series B round at $20 million. Energize Capital led the round and the D. E. Shaw group, Veriten, and HSBC Asset Management, an existing investor, joined in on the round. Additionally, two of Amperon's early customers, Ørsted and another strategic utility partner, participated in the series B, which brought Amperon’s total funding to $30 million.

“The energy transition is creating unprecedented market volatility, and Amperon is uniquely positioned to help market participants better navigate the transitioning grid – both in the U.S. and as we expand globally,” Sean Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Amperon, says in the release. Read more.

Velostics raised nearly $2M additional seed funding in October

Velostics has raised additional funding to grow its logistics software. Photo via velostics.com

A Houston company that's providing innovative unified scheduling software for the logistics industries has raised additional seed funding.

Houston-based Velostics Inc. raised $1.95 million, the company announced this week. The additional seed round follows a $2.5 million round announced in 2021. The Velostics platform optimizes scheduling for inbound and outbound trucks, saving companies money across the supply chain and resulting in fewer emissions from idling trucks.

“Scheduling is a major headache for all parties focused on reducing cost and delivering on high customer expectations — our cloud based solution is designed to go live in one day with no apps required,” Gaurav Khandelwal, founder and CEO of Velostics, says in a news release. Read more.

Konect.ai secured $5.5M seed funding in October

Konect.ai is using AI and natural language processing within the automotive retail industry. Image via Getty Images

A Houston startup that's using artificial intelligence and natural language processing to disrupt the retail automotive industry has raised seed funding.

Konect.ai announced a $5.5 million seed investment from Austin-based Silverton Partners. The funding will support the company's development of its software, which hopes to advance communications between auto dealerships and auto tech companies and customers.

"This investment from Silverton Partners is a strong validation of our vision and the hard work of our talented team. With this support, we are poised to accelerate our growth and continue to innovate, bringing the most advanced conversational AI products to the automotive retail industry," Cole Kutschinski, president and CEO of Konect.ai, says in a news release. Read more.

Graylog closed $9M in a series C extension round and $30M in financing in October

Graylog, a Houston SaaS company, has new fuel to scale and develop its product. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston software-as-a-service company has secured $39 million in financing and announced its latest upgrade to its platform.

Graylog, which has created an innovative platform for cybersecurity and IT operations, raised equity funding with participation from new investor Silver Lake Waterman and existing investors Piper Sandler Merchant Banking and Harbert Growth Partners leading the round.

“The growth we are seeing globally is a response to our team’s focus on innovation, a superior user experience, low total cost of ownership, and strong execution from our Go-To-Market and Customer Success teams,” Andy Grolnick, CEO of Graylog, says in a news release. “We expect this momentum to continue as Graylog expands its reach and raises its profile in the security market.” Read more.

RepeatMD raised $50M series A in November

Fresh off a win at the Houston Innovation Awards, RepeatMD has raised funding. Photo by Emily Jaschke/InnovationMap

Just nine months after its seed round, a Houston startup with a software platform for the aesthetic and wellness industry has secured $40 million in venture capital and $10 million in debt facility.

RepeatMD, a SaaS platform, announced today that it's secured $50 million, which includes a $10 million debt facility from Silicon Valley Bank. The round was co-led by Centana Growth Partners and Full In Partners with participation from PROOF and Mercury Fund, which also contributed to the seed round earlier this year.

“Even though the aesthetics and wellness industry has continued to innovate a growing range of life-changing treatments, practices continue to face challenges selling treatments and services that are new and unfamiliar to patients,” Phil Sitter, CEO of RepeatMD, says in the release. Read more.

Kahuna Workforce Solutions secures $21M series B in November

Kahuna Workforce Solutions, which provides HR software solutions, announced it has closed a $21 million series B. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston company with a software platform to enhance skills management operations has raised its series B.

Kahuna Workforce Solutions announced it has closed a $21 million series B funding round led by Baltimore-based Resolve Growth Partners. Kahuna's platform provides its users — which come the from health care, energy, field service, and manufacturing industries — with effective assessment, training and development, and staffing and deployment initiatives.

“We are thrilled to work with Resolve as Kahuna begins the next growth phase. Their expertise in enterprise software, and commitment to innovation and continuous improvement fully aligns with our mission, vision, and goals for Kahuna,” Jai Shah, CEO of Kahuna Workforce Solutions, says in a news release. Read more.

Allganize closed $20 million series B in November

Allganize recently closed a $20 million series B round of funding, bringing its total amount raised to $35 million. Graphic via allganize.ai

A Houston tech startup with an artificial intelligence technology has announced it's raised two rounds of funding as it plans to continue developing its product and IPO in Japan.

Allganize recently closed a $20 million series B round of funding, bringing its total amount raised to $35 million, according to the company. Allganize developed Alli, an all-in-one platform for enabling large language models, that's used by over 200 enterprise and public companies globally, including Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, Nomura Securities, Hitachi, Fujitsu, and KB Securities.

"This investment accelerates our journey towards global expansion and achieving a milestone of listing on the Japanese stock exchange by 2025," Changsu Lee, CEO of Allganize, says in a news release. Read more.

EndoQuest Robotics Inc. announced $42 million series C in December

Houston-based EndoQuest has closed a $42 million round. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston medical device company that's tapping into robotics technology for the operating room has just announced a major chunk of fresh funding.

EndoQuest Robotics Inc. announced that it has closed a $42 million series C to advance its robot technology that's targeting endoluminal and gastrointestinal minimally invasive procedures. Returning investors, CE Ventures Limited and McNair Interests, and new investor, Puma Venture Capital, led the round of funding.

"Our investors share our vision of leveraging robotics to redefine the possibilities in minimally invasive procedures," Kurt Azarbarzin, CEO of EndoQuest Robotics, says in a press release. Read more.

Digital Wildcatters announced $2.5M seed in December

Digital Wildcatters just raised $2.5 million in funding. Image courtesy

With $2.5 million in fresh funding, Digital Wildcatters is on its way to keep empowering the evolving energy workforce.

Digital Wildcatters, a Houston company that's providing a community for the next generation of energy professionals, has closed its seed plus funding round at $2.5 million. The round by energy industry veteran Chuck Yates, who also hosts his podcast "Chuck Yates Needs a Job" on the Digital Wildcatters' podcast network.

"Our industry's survival depends on recruiting the next generation of energy workers. We must adapt to their digital, content-rich world, as we currently lag behind, like a VHS tape in a Netflix world. Digital Wildcatters is our path to modernization," Yates says. Read more.

Kahuna CEO Jai Shah shares how he plans on deploying the $21 million his Houston company just raised. Photo courtesy of Kahuna

Houston HR tech platform plans to grow team, expand internationally with recent $21M raise

big kahuna

With a recent $21 million series B funding round set to fuel more growth and expand an impressive client roster, Kahuna Workforce Solutions is riding a big wave into 2024.

CEO Jai Shah tells InnovationMap that the Houston skills management software service company’s Hawaiian name captures their style.

“Kahuna is that kind of expert, competent leader in a tribe or family,” Jai says. “That’s all because we had this concept of really wanting to be providing a very..family-oriented consulting approach. Treat our customers like family, and with respect, love and really just try and deliver on that promise.”

For Shah, Kahuna represents a natural progression, and grew out of his first startup, Hula Partners, a Houston consulting company acquired by GP Strategies Corp. in 2017.

Shah says his initial work in human resource technology transformation for energy giants like Marathon Oil exposed the poor functionality of HR software, especially for employees. The very technology that has revolutionized the workplace has often not met the needs of many American workers, even as they face more demands on their time.

“We saw a need in the marketplace, relative to the consulting, where technology really wasn’t filling the gap,” says Shah, who now lives in San Diego.

Kahuna’s skills management software service bridges that gap, enabling employees train and grow within their field, and employers to track and monitor their progress in key competencies.

Whether it’s a nurse assessing a patient, or a worker turning a wrench properly on an oil rig, employers observe those skills and record them in Kahuna’s software.

“What Kahuna does, is give the organization a lot more confidence in their ability to have these workers do their jobs,” Shah says.

Those frontline workers drive the company’s ethos. “That workforce is super key to the economy, and it’s really been undeserved by technology for many years. That’s why we exist,” says Shah.

Kahuna caught the attention of Baltimore, Maryland-based Resolve Growth Partners, which chose Kahuna as the first investment in their second funding group with the series B. Kahuna’s series A funding came from venture capital group Houston Ventures.

Chip Davis, of Houston Ventures, who remains a key figure in Kahuna, says he experienced his “Eureka moment” when he saw how Kahuna could solve a problem that he witnessed firsthand in another company. He had another investment client in the oil industry, that had tons of data, but didn’t know what to do with it. He saw that Kahuna provides a way.

“The type of data that Kahuna developed, is not easy to develop,” Davis says. “It knows not that just that you went to college; it knows how well you did, and it knows how well you’re doing now, and it knows why you’re doing well now."

Shah says Kahuna’s ability to leverage that granular data sets the company apart from other HR applications. And that technology may even extend to the future workforce.

Memorial Hermann, a new customer, is in discussions with Kahuna to implement its software early in the journey for nursing candidates, in secondary education curriculum.

Students as young as seventh grade who aspire to a nursing career, could use Kahuna software to find out what skills they’ll need, and keep

Shah says the funds from Resolve, divided in two tranches, will help grow his staff of 50 employees by 30 percent. He also says he plans three or four major initiatives in product development, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning and developing new software modules.

The company will remain headquartered at its Houston office on upper Kirby, but plans are underway to expand operations in about a year into Northern Europe, where many energy clients do business.

Kahuna will maintain growth with a laser focus on frontline workers, Shah says, and solidify its position as a category leader in the energy, manufacturing, and health care verticals.

“A lot of these companies are being challenged in more technically tough environments,” he says. “We’re drilling for oil in deeper and deeper ocean centers. Nurses are asked to do more these days than they were five years ago, or 10 years ago.”

Kahuna’s move upmarket may bring challenges common to companies making that same progression, with a more sophisticated buying process and the scrutiny that comes with it.

“An upmarket customer wants to know how you can support them. They’re going to examine you, in a way you’re not used to being examined,” Davis says.

Kahuna Workforce Solutions, which provides HR software solutions, announced it has closed a $21 million series B. Photo via Getty Images

Houston software company with HR solutions raises $21M series B

money moves

A Houston company with a software platform to enhance skills management operations has raised its series B.

Kahuna Workforce Solutions announced it has closed a $21 million series B funding round led by Baltimore-based Resolve Growth Partners. Kahuna's platform provides its users — which come the from health care, energy, field service, and manufacturing industries — with effective assessment, training and development, and staffing and deployment initiatives.

“We are thrilled to work with Resolve as Kahuna begins the next growth phase. Their expertise in enterprise software, and commitment to innovation and continuous improvement fully aligns with our mission, vision, and goals for Kahuna,” Jai Shah, CEO of Kahuna Workforce Solutions, says in a news release. “This funding fuels our ability to provide mission-critical skills management solutions and support as we revolutionize how organizations manage and optimize workforce skills and capabilities.”

The software-as-a-service company will use the fresh funding to continue product development and hire across sales and marketing, product development, customer success, and engineering. The company also will grow to support global customers.

“Kahuna stands out as a category leader. They offer best-in-class skills management software and create true partnerships with customers to achieve transformative business value and operational outcomes,” Jit Sinha, co-founder and partner at Resolve Growth Partners, adds.

“Kahuna’s extensive understanding of market needs positions them uniquely in this space. Our investment is a testament to the confidence we have in Kahuna to continue leading and offering unparalleled solutions to meet the evolving needs of customers globally,” Sinha continues.

Shah, who's based in San Diego, founded the company in 2018. The company lists several of its customers on its website, including bp, GE Renewable Energy, Memorial Hermann, and more.

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Houston investors back new platform for retail traders looking to follow financial influencers

making a splash

As anyone who witnessed the impact Gamestop's meme stock had on the country already realizes, influential investors can drive momentum within the financial sector. And one company with fresh funding from a Houston firm is betting on that exactly.

CashPool is a new mobile platform that gives everyday investors the opportunity to derive influence from the investment strategies and trades made by trusted and influential stock traders who have built substantial followings on social media platforms. By allowing retail traders the chance to join social media influencers’ various “pools” on its platform, CashPool is primed to change the way the masses acquire wealth.

This is the kind of algorithmic trading aimed at a new generation of investors that gets the attention of early-stage venture capital funds like Houston-based Ten X Labs, a pre-seed angel fund that recently invested in CashPool to help the trading platform continue its mission of transforming the investment landscape.

"We are thrilled to receive funding from Ten X Labs, as it validates our innovative approach to trading and investing," CashPool Founder and CEO Averett Barksdale says in a news release. "This investment will enable us to further enhance our platform, expand our user base and continue to revolutionize the industry. We believe that everyone should have transparent, governed access to profitable trading and investment opportunities, and through CashPool we are making that vision a reality."

Connecting the dots

CashPool is broker agnostic connector, allowing its users to keep their current brokers like Robinhood, Coinbase, Charles Schwab, Acorns, Fidelity, ETRADE, Stash, Sofi and Betterment and creates a seamless investment experience.

“We are that middle piece,” says Barksdale. “So your money stays on whatever brokerage you’ve connected to the platform, and we just execute the trades on your brokerage for you.”

Considering that users’ money remains with their original brokerage, how does CashPool monetize its platform?

“We don’t charge users to execute trades,” says Barksdale. “We charge per pool you join. So, on our platform, strategies are called pools and a user can join as many strategies as they want.”

Financial influencers set the strategies. These are profitable traders who have become influencers on various social media platforms and built-up followings comprised of people who are or are desiring to be retail traders themselves.

“There are a ton of people out there who actually are profitable traders,” says Barksdale. “Same as what we saw happen with GameStop and the whole Reddit situation. That was a financial influencer, right? It just so happens that he had a strategy that he thought would work and it turned out for a while it did work, right?

“We want to not only empower the retail trader, but empower these financial influencers who are profitable as well. Just because it's a whole marketplace out there for it. But a lot of times the retail trader doesn't quite understand who to go with. On our platform, you could see the results of these financial influencers right before your eyes on our platform. So you can see if they're profitable or not, or if someone's just on Instagram or whatever, social media platform posting screenshots but aren’t actually executing those trades.”

Increasing transparency

With trading, past success can be an arbiter for future performance, so with CashPool, users can choose to join the pools of influencers who have documented success as a trader on the platform.

“On our platform you can't hide,” says Barksdale. “We're connected to their brokerage account, so we see what trades they're making in real time. We also see their performance in real time, and we display that on the platform. That's something that you really can't get around. So if someone on Instagram says they traded this stock, then I made X amount of dollars and had this percentage of return, then you go to the platform and look at your pool and see they didn't do that and were lying the whole time, it’s literally just putting everything out there in the open. We have the kind of transparency that doesn't exist currently right now in the space.”

Broadcasting one’s successes is easy, but what about the losses?

“I thought it was going to be a lot more difficult just thinking, do people really want to show what they're doing?” says Barksdale. “But the thing that I've seen is a lot of these traders are a whole lot more competitive. And the traders who are doing it, they're constantly talking out against people who aren't actually doing it in real life.

“A lot of the traders who are actually profitable, they do live trades every day. But how do users if they should pay to get into a specific trader’s live trading session? Like, how do they know they're profitable already?

“On CashPool, users can see an actual influencer's win rate and say, 'Okay, 86 percent of the time they are profitable, and I could see how many trades they've made in total.' From that standpoint, users can make an educated decision on what pools to join and pay for.”

CashPool users can join as many pools as they see fit, but the cost of each pool’s membership may vary due to the popularity or success percentage rate of the financial influencer.

“You can join as many pools as you want, but what we suggest is you start by joining the pools of influencers that you already follow and trust, that you're already following like on Twitter or YouTube or Instagram or whatever it may be,” says Barksdale. “We are suggesting that you follow them first and you join their pools first. What we do is on the monetization side is we allow the creators on our platform who are the influencers to set their own price for their pool.”

Building a secure network

Outside of who or what to follow, information security is likely a concern for potential users. Financial influencers’ trade information is readily available (win percentages and number of trades, not dollar amounts), but users’ won’t be able to see other users’ information on the platform.

“Currently, we have a list of 10 brokerages who are on board, and then we're working to onboard more as we keep going on,” says Barksdale. “So, we have like your Interactive brokerages, and we also have a few other ones that are UK specific and Canada specific. We would love to have every single brokerage on the platform, but unfortunately, there are a couple that are still kind of playing hard to get, so to speak.”

The first rollout of CashPool is set, but version two will likely include content creation from the financial influencers.

Barksdale, who has a background in product development and experience working at companies like Charles Schwab and Fidelity, is mostly excited about the prospect of CashPool unlocking expert financial strategies for everyone, not just the financial advisors behind the closed doors of Wall Street.

“Yes, my philosophy is that financial health and financial growth should be accessible for all,” says Barksdale. “The thing that gets me is it needs to be responsible. So, for example, RobinHood is a platform that doesn't necessarily care if you are making responsible decisions, they just care that you're trading on that platform.

“Our platform is strictly focused on actually being the place where these retail traders can make responsible decisions centered around investing and trading.”

Tech companies contribute to recovery fund for those affected by Houston storm

helping hands

The past month in Houston has been marked by severe flooding and a sudden storm that left nearly a million residents without power. The Houston Disaster Alliance has established the Severe Weather and Derecho Recovery Fund to help those impacted by the weather.

“The Greater Houston Disaster Alliance was formed so that in times of crisis, there is a swift and efficient response to help those severely impacted begin the process of recovery,” said Stephen Maislin, president and CEO, Greater Houston Community Foundation. “When disaster strikes, it requires a collaborative and coordinated response from the nonprofit, for-profit, public sector, and philanthropic community to ensure the most vulnerable in our region get the help they need to start the recovery and rebuilding process.”

At least a million dollars has been donated to the fund, courtesy of $500,000 from the CenterPoint Energy Foundation and another $500,000 from Comcast. With Houston now a federally declared disaster area by President Joe Biden, impacted residents are able to apply for various grants and aid.

Those still struggling from the weather events should call the 211 Texas/United Way HELPLINE. Assistance is available for housing, utilities, food, elder assistance, and other areas. Crisis counseling is also available.

“Outside of times of disaster, we know that 14 percent of households in our region are struggling on income below the federal poverty line and 31 percent of households in our region are working hard but struggling to make ends meet. It’s these neighbors who are disproportionately impacted when disaster strikes,” said Amanda McMillian, president and CEO, United Way of Greater Houston. “This fund allows us to lift up the most vulnerable who have been impacted by recent weather events to ensure they can not only recover from the immediate crisis, but also prepare themselves for future disasters.”

The derecho storm that hit Houston on Thursday, May 16 had wind gusts up to 100mph. Nearly a million people in the Houston area were left without power, and as of Wednesday CenterPoint was still working to restore electricity to more than 60,000 people. Photos showed that the storm toppled massive power pylons, took down trees, and even ripped the sides off buildings. Miniature tornadoes touched down in parts of the city, adding to the devastation.

The Houston Disaster Alliance was launched in 2023 as a joint effort between the Greater Houston Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Houston to help mitigate the damage of weather crises year-round. This has become increasingly necessary as Houston's weather has become more unpredictable than ever.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.