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

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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Houston energy tech investment group rebrands to address sustainability

Seeing green

As the pandemic took its hold on the economy and the energy industry's commodity crisis did its damage, Patrick Lewis understandably assumed that maybe sustainability initiatives might be on the back burner for his network of energy companies.

"We thought we would hear that sustainability in this environment may have slipped down the priority list, but it was the exact opposite," Lewis says. "Pretty consistently across all the operators, sustainability, reducing emissions, and greenhouse gases — those are all even more important today."

This confirmation that the energy industry is committed to innovative sustainability projects led Lewis to rebrand his energy tech investment group from BBL Ventures to Sustainability Ventures Group, or SVG. The investment team focuses on reverse engineering the startup innovation process by sourcing the concerns and goals of the energy companies, then finding solutions from the startup world through reverse pitch competitions and challenges.

"We're not fundamentally changing our business model or investment strategy, but we just wanted to make sure our messaging was crystal clear," Lewis tells InnovationMap.

Lewis says he and his team really thought through the definition of sustainability, and he specifies that, "we're not doing this to go chase solar or wind power — those are on the table — but we think there are two primary opportunities: Digital transformation and emerging technologies in the existing fossil fuel industry," Lewis says.

He adds that oil and gas is going to be around for a long time still, and he cites that by 2040, it's predicted that 40 percent of energy will still come from fossil fuels. It's the big energy companies and providers — which he's working with — that have the power to move the needle on these changes.

"We think there's a real opportunity to pursue efficiencies and reduce emissions and footprint in that existing traditional oil and gas sector," he says.

Earlier this year, Lewis was addressing these concerns by working on standing up a group of industry experts for regular meetings to discuss innovation needs. What started as a call with a handful of people, now hosts 40 people across 14 energy operator and major tech platforms.

"The whole purpose of this group is to share best practices, collaborate on common pain points, risk manage pilots," Lewis says. "We continue to build that group — it's going to be a nonprofit governed by a steering committee."

While SVG has held off on its reverse pitch events, the organization along with the University of Houston Center for Carbon Management submitted a proposal to host the National Science Foundation's Convergence Acceleratoronvergence Accelerator virtual conference at the end of September.

"The goal is to bring together multidisciplinary stakeholders — industry, nonprofit, academics, NGOs, public policy experts — to solve big problems," Lewis says. "Sustainability is a problem they really want to address."

Rice University's data-focused lab presents unique opportunity for startups and small businesses

data to knowlege

A data-focused lab a Rice University is training the next generation of data scientists. However, the students at the Rice D2K Lab are doing more than just learning about the significance of data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence — they're working as data scientists now.

Businesses — large and small — can come into the lab and have Rice students and staff work on data projects in both short-term and long-term capacity. One semester, a group of students worked with 311 call data for the city of Houston so that officials can figure out what parts of town were in the most need of support, says Jennifer Sanders, program administrator at the Rice D2K lab.

"They were able to show on a Houston map the areas where most of these 311 calls were coming from," Sanders tells InnovationMap. "That allowed the city to focus on those areas."

Lately, the lab has been focused on a several COVID-19 Houston Response Projects, which addressed issues ranging from homelessness in the time of a pandemic, ventilator distribution, and more. One team even made a recommendation to the city after a data project determined that adding five ambulances to southwest neighborhoods served by the Houston Fire Department Emergency Medical Services program would optimize response times.

The lab has two avenues to help businesses: a semester-long capstone course and a clinic for one-time sessions. This upcoming semester, the capstone course has 60 students signed up to work on 10 to 12 projects from corporate sponsors. These lab members — which support the program monetarily — are selected based on their fit within the program.

The D2K Consulting Clinic also offers free one-hour sessions on campus. At the clinic, students look at the data and assess the possibilities and advise on how to use that data for business gain or growth.

"The consulting clinic can be a starting point if a business is not sure what to do with their data," says Shanna Jin, communications and marketing specialist at the D2K Lab.

The clinic also presents a special opportunity for small businesses and startups, a niche Sanders says they haven't tapped into enough yet. She says most of the companies they've worked with are larger organizations, usually in the energy industry.

"We really want to broaden the scope to smaller startups, tech companies, and nonprofits," Sanders says. "We really don't have to limit ourselves. I would really love to expand our reach."

Membership dues for companies, which provides a more structured, long-term access to data consulting, range from $25,000 to $75,000 a year. However, Sanders says the lab is willing to work with startups on a cost that's more accessible.

Ultimately, the goal of the program is to connect the dots for businesses that have data and don't know how to use it.

"To realize the potential of big data, we need people — people who can transform data to knowledge," says the lab's founder, Genevera Allen, in a promotional video. "That's what we're doing with the Rice D2K Lab."

UH: How biotech companies are withstanding the pandemic

Houston voices

At a time when the business world is reeling, biotech companies are still hanging on. Many biotech startups have successfully pivoted their entire platforms to focus on coronavirus-related work.

Of course, these companies aren't without their struggles. Clinical trials have come to a pause, finding investors has become more difficult and financing rounds have been surceased.

Even then, there are many biotech startups that have managed to snag government loans via the Paycheck Protection Program among other financial assistance. According to Vivian Doelling, the vice president of emerging company development at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, COVID-19 has not impacted the bio science industry as much as it has others.

"Some of the smaller biotech companies have pivoted research to be more COVID-centric. This is also true particularly for companies with open platforms or who were developing products in the antiviral space," Doelling told BioSpace, an online biotech publication.

"To add to that, there are research organizations that are receiving more pandemic-centric business from biotech. And that includes clinical trial work," she continued.

Ongoing biotech challenges

It's no surprise that there have been some concerns regarding the delay of clinical trials for products that have nothing to do with coronavirus. It is feared that the delays might create product pipeline problems in the long run. See, companies usually file patent applications before trials even start. So, delays in clinical trials, according to Doelling, "could take up a big chunk of the time in which treatments can have patent exclusivity before generic competition intensifies."

Delays negatively impact smaller biotech startups. These startups' futures typically rely on the success rate of trial outcomes. Any delay in these trials subsequently hurts the small biotech startup. But, even then, the pandemic still doesn't seem to be affecting these startups.

Investment blues

"The expectation is investors are going to hold back more funds than they projected for their portfolio companies. There could be less funding available for new investments," expressed Doelling. However, it is her belief that biotech companies are hot investments right now, and sees new investments on the horizon.

"Investors are cautious at the moment," said Marty Rosendale, the CEO of the Maryland Tech Council, to BioSpace. "They're going to analyze their own portfolio to make sure those companies are solid."

Rosendale, echoing Doelling's investment concerns, says investors want to be more careful right now. They are making it a point to invest less money, which makes it difficult for startups seeking funding.

Keep on keeping on

Many startups are continuing to operate because they've found their rhythm in the virtual workplace. "I have not come across any biotech startup that has closed its doors during the pandemic," Rosendale said. "Sure, some have faced delays and temporarily stopped operations, but overall, haven't heard of any closing for good."

There are a few forces at play when it comes to helping biotech startups stay afloat during the pandemic storm. Landlords are forgiving rent and government loans are helping companies pay employees. "I know of companies that have been out there fundraising since the beginning of the COVID crisis. And they're still out there doing it," Rosendale said. "But I still haven't heard of one company that was forced to end or even delay a round of funding, not one."

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Rene Cantu, the author of this piece, is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.