5 Houston innovators to know in 2020

Who's who

From M&A action to the development of Houston's innovation corridor, these are five Houston innovators to keep an eye on in 2020. Courtesy photos

For so many Houston innovators, 2020 will be a year of growth, execution, proof of concept, piloting, pivoting, fundraising, and more.

It's hard to narrow down the list of movers and shakers in Houston innovation, but a few have stood out for making waves in the new year. From M&A action to the development of Houston's innovation corridor, these are five Houston innovators to keep an eye on in 2020.

Rakesh Agrawal, founder and CEO of SnapStream

Photo courtesy of SnapStream

This past year has been good to SnapStream, but it's only the beginning of the company's next growth phase. The software company's technology allows its clients to easily record, search, and share video and broadcast content and has attracted clients from the likes of Saturday Night Live and Last Week Tonight.

In 2019, the company was named the transition partner for Volicon Observer, a company Verizon brought under its umbrella and then changed its mind about, Rakesh Agrawal, CEO of SnapStream, explains on an episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Volicon's specialty is in monitoring and compliance, and with that move, SnapStream brought on around 150 new clients. To maintain those clients and grow its services, SnapStream has rolled out a whole new department. The launch of SnapStream Monitoring and Compliance is the next step for SnapStream's takeover of Volicon, according to a news release.

The M&A activity sparked a move to hire and expand the SnapStream team as the division grows throughout 2020.

Allison Thacker, president of the Rice Management Company

Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Houston has its eyes on The Ion, a 270,000-square-foot building innovation center being developed in the former Sears building in Midtown. Behind the project is the Rice Management Company, which is led by Allison Thacker, president of the organization.

The Ion broke ground in May, and also named its operations leader, Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston earlier this year. While the project isn't expected to deliver until 2021, next year will likely entail determining a few key things about The Ion and the surrounding innovation corridor Rice Management and the city will be developing.

The Houston Coalition for Equitable Development without Displacement, a newly formed organization, has recently expressed its concerns with the development of the property in the historic Third Ward. The community organization wants Rice Management and all parties involved with the innovation corridor to agree to a Community Benefits Agreement, which would protect local residents and provide positive initiatives for growth. The CBA is expected to be arranged in 2020 as the project moves forward.

Andrew Bruce, founder and CEO of Data Gumbo

Photo courtesy of Data Gumbo

Another Houston company that plans to grow throughout 2020 is Data Gumbo. The blockchain-as-a-service company has raised some significant funds — a $6 million series A round closed in May — and will be putting that money to work by expanding the company's footprint and services.

Earlier this year, the company announced its entrance into the construction industry — Andrew Bruce, CEO of Data Gumbo, says in a recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast that the funds will also take Data Gumbo to new global markets, including the Middle East.

"The whole thing for us is building this blockchain network of interconnected companies," Bruce says. "The more companies that are a part of that network, the more value that network has."

Payal Patel, director of corporate partnerships at Plug and Play Tech Center in Houston

Courtesy of Payal Patel

San Francisco-based Plug and Play Tech Center quickly established its new energy-focused Houston location — from announcing its entrance into the market in June to hiring its director of corporate partnerships, Payal Patel, in September. The first cohort of portfolio companies were named in October, and several new Houston partner corporations have been announced as well.

Next year, the local team is expected to grow and is currently hiring for a few positions, as well as announce its office space in town. Patel, specifically, will spearhead the initiatives to grow the organizations already impressive list of corporate partners.

"[Plug and Play ha] great Fortune 500 corporate partners, they work and know the best tech startups all over the world, and they have a strong investment capability," Patel previously told InnovationMap. "I'm excited that those resources and capabilities are coming to Houston."

Travis Parigi, CEO of LiquidFrameworks

Courtesy of LiquidFrameworks

Travis Parigi has always been the one to write the code for his company's software technology, but now, he's in acquisition mode thanks to new support from private equity. Last January, LiquidFrameworks entered into a partnership with private equity firm, Luminate Capital. The new financial partner has opened doors for Parigi, CEO of LiquidFrameworks, and the company as a whole — including putting merger and acquisition activity on the table.

The company has grown its team and even moved to a bigger space in Greenway Plaza. LiquidFrameworks, which has created a suite of software solutions for upstream and downstream oil and gas companies called FieldFX, is also working on key updates and new features for its software.

From oil and gas deals to finance-focused initiatives, this week's innovators are ones to watch. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's Who

As Houstonians head back to work or school following a fun summer break, we know two things for sure.

The first is that traffic will get back to its headache inducing craziness and that Houston startup news will only get more frequent. This week's innovators to know include oil and gas entrepreneurs with big deals on the line plus a finance-savvy woman who wants to encourage others to take control of their personal finance.

Tara Karimi, co-founder and chief scientist at Cemvita Factory

Cemvita Factory

Courtesy of Cemvita Factory

A brother-sister team has taken a huge step forward with their biotech startup, Cemvita Factory. Moji Karimi, who has a background in the oil and gas industry, and his sister, Tara, who has a background in biotech, teamed up a few years ago to create a technology that can mimic photosynthesis, turning carbon dioxide into glucose. It was Tara who figured out the technique and then the two worked backward to identify the industries — oil and gas and space — to work within.

Now, Cemvita is celebrating an investment from an Occidental Petroleum subsidiary — Oxy Low Carbon Ventures LLC.

"We have an ambitious goal to take one gigaton of CO2 out of the carbon cycle in the next decade and are very excited about being a part of Occidental's journey to become a carbon-neutral company," says Tara, co-founder and chief scientist, in a release.

Read more about Cemvita Factory here.

Travis Parigi, founder and CEO of LiquidFrameworks

Courtesy of LiquidFrameworks

Travis Parigi has built his software company from the ground up. Now, for the first time, he's thinking strategically about growth, thanks to a new financial partner.

Parigi's company, LiquidFrameworks, is an enterprise software company with applications in the upstream and downstream services industry. While the software focuses on automation and AI applications, Parigi tells InnovationMap that he has his eyes on emerging technology all the time. I keep a keen watch on a lot of the different technologies that are emerging out there.

"Blockchain is certainly one of them that we're looking at," Parigi says. "I think there's some interesting things that we might be able to do with that as it relates to price book management, which is complex and varied. It could be that blockchain could end up providing a nice mechanism for both parties to independently have pricing data verified."

Read more about Parigi and LiquidFrameworks here.

Eryn Schultz, co-founder of pHERsonal Finance Day

Courtesy of pHERsonal Finance Day.

Eryn Schultz wanted to encourage women to take control of their finances. So she created her own holiday for it called pHERsonal Finance Day. She hosted Houston panels and talks on the day — Friday, August 23 — and motivated women everywhere to take a moment and make a smart financial plan.

"In a world of women's marches and the 'Future is Female' t-shirts, women should be stepping up to shape their financial futures," Schultz writes in a guest column for InnovationMap. "For that reason, women should take a financial health day."

Schultz had a great turnout and reception for the Houston event, and she's already planning for next year.

Read more about pHERsonal Finance Day here.

Travis Parigi, CEO of LiquidFrameworks, is excited about the new doors that have been opened for his company. Courtesy of LiquidFrameworks

Houston oil and gas software exec eyes M&A activity following private equity deal

Featured innovator

Travis Parigi has built his software within his own company for about 14 years. Now, he's in a position to further develop his product at a faster rate.

In January, LiquidFrameworks entered into a partnership with private equity firm, Luminate Capital. The new financial partner has opened doors for Parigi and LiquidFrameworks — including putting merger and acquisition activity on the table.

"I have historically written stuff from the ground up, and we're going to continue to do that, but we want to give our customers more than that," Parigi tells InnovationMap. "And I've never had the opportunity to go out and strategically target opportunities where it makes sense to compliment the product. And I think that's going to be a very exciting thing to do."

Parigi, founder and CEO, tells InnovationMap about how his company has transformed over the years — and especially over the past several months with its new financial backer.

InnovationMap: How did you get your start in software development?

Travis Parigi: I've been building software since I was a very young kid, actually. I started writing software for companies at a very early age and realized that I really, really enjoyed it. And so when I say young, I'm talking in grade school and high school. And I really found that it was rewarding and I enjoyed meeting the requirements that people gave me. From the very early days, I knew I wanted to start a software company, but I really wasn't sure exactly what it would do. I went to work in the consulting industry right after graduating from A&M University with a degree in computer science and engineering and was building software for variety of different companies that were their clients and started to get some exposure to the energy industry.

Then in the late 1990s, the company I was at was going through some financial struggles, and it became an opportune time for me to start my own consulting company building software for companies. One client I had was Schlumberger, and I really started seeing this similar business problem related to collecting data at the well site. The workers in the field were working with paper and Excel. I thought it was a great opportunity to move people out of manual and into the digital world.

IM: Now, over a decade later, what role do you feel LiquidFrameworks plays in the industry?

TP: We play a role of standardizing the datasets that our clients are working with as it relates to the quote to cash process. So, specifically around their pricing data and their catalog data. We're standardizing that data and we're getting it into form and a shape that allows them to easily keep it up to date and easily syndicated changes related to that data out to not only other offices and districts, but also field crew that may be occasionally connected to the network.

With that data, we can do all sorts of things that end up benefiting the customer — like using it to create field tickets, invoices, work orders, safety forms, quotes, and all sorts of transactions that really need to be based upon one homogenous set of data that standardize, that isn't floating around in various documents.

IM: Where does the artificial intelligence LiquidFrameworks has developed come into play?

TP: We're taking it one step further, and once they finished those transactions, they end up with not just the reference data as it relates to pricing, but also the transactional data, we can use that data to infer the best way to quote or price new services in the future that will position the company and the best possible place to win the deals that they're quoting and bidding against. We're using different types of artificial intelligence algorithms to do that.

Nowadays, companies like us have at our disposal tools in the AI world — specifically in the machine learning world — that we just didn't have when I started the company. Fourteen years ago when I started the business, cloud computing in 2005 was not nearly as ubiquitous as it is today. And it wasn't as widely accepted and it certainly wasn't as widely accepted as it is in the energy industry today.

IM: What kind of clients are you working with?

TP: We're targeting three different industries. The upstream oil and gas service provider market, the downstream service provider market, and the emergency response service provider market. On the upstream side, they are companies doing work at the well site, and in downstream, they are companies doing work at the refineries.

IM: As automation and cloud technology is being more adapted within oil and gas, what technologies are now on your radar?

TP: In the beginning, we spent a lot of time educating our potential customers about cloud computing and about technologies that we had available. And now that a lot of that is so well received, it just means that we don't necessarily have to focus on that anymore. We can focus really on what really brings ROI to the customers that implement our product.

I keep a keen watch on a lot of the different technologies that are emerging out there. Blockchain is certainly one of them that we're looking at. I think there's some interesting things that we might be able to do with that as it relates to price book management, which is complex and varied. It could be that blockchain could end up providing a nice mechanism for both parties to independently have pricing data verified.

We're always keeping an eye on and doing work in artificial intelligence, specifically around machine learning. I think there's always new interesting stuff taking place there outside. I would say those two technologies are something that we're pretty pretty keen on.

IM: How has the transition into private equity been with your new partner in Silicon Valley-based Luminate Capital?

TP: We had a financial partner prior to Luminate Capital called Houston Ventures. Our managing partner there was a guy named Chip Davis. He was fantastic, and he helped us grow the business for about seven years. Eventually, we got to a point where we had grown to a level where I felt like, in order to do some things we wanted to do, we needed to establish a new financial partner. Private equity made the most sense for us, and it's really allowing us to do some things that we couldn't do with venture.

Over the years, we built out a fairly extensive roadmap, and my development team has worked very hard and diligently to fulfill those items on the roadmap. But our customer base has really grown significantly, and we've moved up into enterprise customers who have asked for a lot of things that we want to put into our product. And so our long range roadmap has grown. For these new features, we either need to build that ourselves in house, but, in some cases, there are some things that are tangential and complimentary to our product that other companies have already. So, it could make sense for us to go out and acquire those kinds of companies. And with Luminate, they provided us not only capital for us to do that, but equally as important, they provided an engine that we can facilitate from an M&A perspective to help us go and source those deals, find them, help assess them, and ultimately help acquire them and then integrate them into the overall platform.

IM: How has the partnership benefitted your company from a networking and opportunities perspective?

TP: Their portfolio of companies are similar to us and that they're are all enterprise software companies. They're not necessarily in the energy space, but they're all enterprise software companies. Being able to network with those companies has really been helpful. We didn't have a CFO prior to Luminate coming in. Part of the deal was that they said, "hey, we really would encourage and recommend that you get a CFO at this stage because you're growing and you need it." They provided some relationships there to in the form of recruiters to help us source the CFO. And we ended up sourcing a local CFO — Paul Marvin — who's absolutely fantastic.

IM: How has Houston been as a home base for you?

TP: Houston has been fantastic for LiquidFrameworks. I started the business based here and see no reason to change that. It is a fantastic market for us, both from a customer perspective as well as an employee perspective. The employee talent base in Houston is rich and deep. There's a lot of technical people here, and obviously there's a ton of energy companies.

IM: With all your operations being in Houston, do you see opportunities for other offices in the future?

TP: We have customers all over the world — a lot in Canada, so I could see an office there for sales and implementation. I would say that as we grow, expanding sales to other geographies is certainly something that will ultimately end up doing. It's just not something we've had to do yet.

IM: Are you planning on growing operations here?

TP: We've added a couple dozen people to the team just over the past few months, and we plan on doubling the staff by the end of next year.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

Houston-based LiquidFrameworks has been acquired by San Francisco-based Luminate Capital. Pexels

Houston startup exits to Bay Area private equity firm

Grand exit

A Houston startup has entered a deal with a San Francisco-based private equity firm, the companies announced on January 10. LiquidFrameworks, which provides cloud-based, mobile field operations management solutions to oil and gas, environmental, and industrial service companies, is now operating under Luminate Capital following the acquisition.

While not all the terms of the deal have been disclosed, Chip Davis, managing partner at Houston Ventures, says the transaction exceeded $50 million of PE investment from Luminate Capital. HV has been involved with LiquidFrameworks since 2012 and has invested a cumulative $6 million, Davis says, and brought in the company's current CEO and head of sales — both of who are still a part of the company's team.

"When we got involved, it was a very small company," says Davis. "As of today, it has enterprise customers of some of the largest oilfield services companies in the world."

According to the release, Hollie Haynes, Mark Pierce, and Sanjay Palakshappa from Luminate have joined the LiquidFrameworks board of directors. The PE fund's investment is a part of the recently closed $425 million Fund II.

"For over a decade, we have served field services companies by reducing revenue leakage, shortening cash collection cycles, and increasing overall operational efficiencies. We have streamlined the day-to-day operations for field services professionals and increased transparency across organizations by transforming previously paper- or excel-based workflows," says Travis Parigi, founder and COO of LiquidFrameworks, in the release.

"With a partner like Luminate Capital, we will continue to invest and develop product capabilities to better serve field services industries that have previously been overlooked by software innovation."

One of LiquidFrameworks' tools is FieldFX, which enhances companies' data accuracy and accelerates revenue capture and cash flow.

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NASA taps Houston startup to create commercial habitat to attach to the International Space Station

out of this world

A Houston-based space startup has been named the winner of a NASA competition — and the prize is getting to create the first commercial habitat in space.

Axiom Space has won NASA's NextSTEP-2 Appendix I solicitation, a call for a commercial habitat to be attached to the International Space Station's Harmony module, or Node 2. Axiom is working to create a commercial space station that would eventually serve as a replacement for ISS.

"We appreciate the bold decision on the part of NASA to open up a commercial future in low Earth orbit," Co-founder Michael Suffredini says in a news release. "This selection is a recognition of the uniquely qualified nature of the Axiom team and our commercial plan to create and support a thriving, sustainable, and American-led LEO ecosystem."

Axiom was founded by Suffredini, former NASA ISS program manager, and space entrepreneur Kam Ghaffarian in 2016. The company has plans to launch a node module, research facility, manufacturing operations, crew habitat, and large-windowed Earth observatory all to be attached to the ISS. The targeted launch date is set for late 2024.

Part of Axiom's long-term plans include an Earth observatory. Photo via axiomspace.com

"Axiom exists to provide the infrastructure in space for a variety of users to conduct research, discover new technologies, test systems for exploration of the Moon and Mars, manufacture superior products for use in orbit and on the ground, and ultimately improve life back on Earth," continues Suffredini.

"As we build on the legacy and foundation established by the ISS Program, we look forward to working with NASA and the ecosystem of current and future international partners on this seminal effort."

Ghaffarian has decades of space expertise and founded Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies, which went on to be a NASA engineering services provider before being acquired by KBR in 2018. Now, KBR — along with Boeing, Thales Alenia Space Italy, Intuitive Machines, and Maxar Technologies — serves as a partner to Axiom.

"A commercial platform in Earth orbit is an opportunity to mark a shift in our society similar to that which astronauts undergo when they see the planet from above," Ghaffarian, who serves as Axiom's executive chairman, says in the release.

"Our goal is to advance the state of humanity and human knowledge. I am glad to see the Axiom team, with its advanced human spaceflight, engineering, and operations expertise, recognized for its potential to do just that and build off of ISS."

The Axiom Segment will be attached to the ISS until the station is phased out. Then, Axiom will launch a power source into space to serve Axiom's operations before detaching from the decommissioned ISS all together. Eventually, the Axiom Segment will be a free-flying commercial space station.

"There is a fantastically steep learning curve to human spaceflight," Suffredini says in the release. "The collective experience at Axiom is quite far along it. Because we know firsthand what works and what doesn't in [low Earth orbit], we are innovating in terms of design, engineering, and process while maintaining safety and dramatically lowering costs."

Entrepreneur feels called to demystify cryptocurrency with his Houston startup

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 16

Spencer Randall, an engineer by trade, developed a fascination with cryptocurrency, and he wasn't able to shake it.

"Once I understood the technology, it wasn't really a choice. I felt compelled and driven to learn as much as I possibly could," he says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I'd say it was more of a calling."

His interest lead him to frequent cryptocurrency and blockchain meetups, and, when those started to feel all over the place, he started to host his own meetups, focused on key issues within the technology.

It was through these meetups that Randall met who would meet Brooks Vaughan, Norman Hamilton, Michael Thoma, and Joseph Romero, who would then become the co-founders of CryptoEQ.

"There really wasn't a go-to resource (for cryptocurrency," Randall says. "What we wanted to do and what our mission today is to be the most trusted and intuitive analysis for cryptocurrencies."

So, the group of entrepreneurs created CryptoEQ, which gives cryptocurrency investors a community to interact with and learn from. The company, which works out of The Cannon, launched its version 2 for the site this month and saw a 500 percent growth among users. CryptoEQ is also planning to grow its site and resources and is hiring a new full-time employee this year.

Randall discusses trends he's seen in the industry, plans for 2020, and more in the podcast episode. Listen to the full episode below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Station Houston merges with statewide startup investor and accelerator

joining forces

Station Houston and Austin-based Capital Factory announced that they will be combining forces through a merger effective immediately.

Capital Factory will power all of Station Houston's membership and mentorship, including startup-focused services, as well as add its own statewide resources, which include investors, mentors, and more.

"The more high quality startups we have across a diverse range of industries, the more investors, big companies, and big government want to get involved," Gordon Daugherty, co-founder and president, says in a news release, relating the collaboration to Metcalfe's Law. "Uniting with Station Houston will see benefits run both ways."

The combined entity, referred to as "Station Houston, powered by Capital Factory," will operate out of 1301 Fannin St., where Station currently resides, before moving into the Ion when it's completed, which is slated to be early next year.

"As we continue to develop our innovation economy in Houston and prepare for the opening of the Ion in January 2021, there is no better partner than Capital Factory to serve the needs of our entrepreneurs," says Gabriella Rowe, executive director of The Ion. "For years, they have demonstrated their commitment to startups across Texas, helping them build their ideas through mentorship and introducing them to venture capital from around the country."

Capital Factory was founded in Austin in 2009, and entered into the Houston market last year. Currently, The Cannon has a dedicated space for Capital Factory and its portfolio clients and employs two people in Houston. Capital Factory also has a presence in Dallas.

Station Houston was founded in 2016 and has over 200 startups, 400 members, and 130 mentors, according to the release.

"Capital Factory is one of the top startup development organizations in the country. By partnering with Station Houston and expanding their footprint into the Ion, their commitment to Houston's entrepreneurs is clear," says Harvin Moore, president of Houston Exponential, in the news release.

"It's a win for Houston's startups and for our booming ecosystem," Moore continues. "Increasing bridges between Texas' major tech ecosystems has enormous synergistic value, and I am thrilled to see Houston and the Ion play a significant role in building such competitive strength."