A Houston tech startup launches a crowdfunding campaign — and more local innovation news. Photo courtesy of The Postage

The Houston innovation ecosystem has been bursting at the seams with news from innovative tech companies and disruptive Houston startups as we fly through the final quarter of 2021.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a Texas energy tech company gets selected for a prestigious program, a med device company heads to clinical trials, a startup launches a crowdfunding campaign, and more.

The Postage launches crowdfunding campaign

The Postage is looking for financial support with its new campaign. Photo courtesy of The Postage

The Postage, a Houston-based, full-service digital platform to help organize affairs to make after-life planning a smoother process for families, has announced the launch of a crowdfunding campaign through MicroVentures.

"This crowdfunding offering is selling crowd notes to raise maximum offering proceeds of $500,000 with a minimum investment of $100," according to a news release. "We currently anticipate closing this offering on April 4, 2022."

More information on this offering can be found at: https://invest.microventures.com/offerings/the-postage.

Emily Cisek co-founded the company after she experienced an overwhelming experience following a death in her family.

"I just knew there had to be a better way, and that's why I started The Postage," Cisek says on an episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "My background had historically been in bringing offline businesses online, and I started doing some research on how I could make this space better. At the time, there really wasn't anything out there."

Texas company selected for Chevron Technology Ventures Catalyst Program

This Texas company has joined CTV's startup program. Photo via Getty Images

SeebeckCell Technologies, while based in Arlington, Texas, is no stranger to the Houston innovation ecosystem. The startup was in the first class of the Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator, participated in the MassChallenge Texas Houston cohort, and is a member at Greentown Houston. The company announced earlier this month a new Houston association as it was invited to participate in the Chevron Technology Ventures Catalyst Program to develop further their technology platform designed to recover industrial waste heat energy, increasing energy consumption efficiency, and eliminating battery replacement in IoT applications, according to a news release.

"SeebeckCell is excited to be supported by Chevron, a technology leader in the energy market," says Ali Farzbod, co-founder and CEO of Seebeckcell Technologies, in the release. "This is inspiring hope in the scientific community as we see Chevron continue to back commercializing academically developed technologies that provide potential solutions for addressing climate change. Through collaboration and partnership, we're able to grow our startup and we're grateful for participating in the Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator that helped connect us with Chevron."

SeebeckCell Technologies is helping petroleum and gas industries and emerging markets solve energy waste with an innovative liquid based thermoelectric generator.

VenoStent heads to clinical trials

VenoStent

VenoStent has reached the clinical trials stage. Photo via venostent.com

VenoStent Inc. has announced successful enrollment in its initial feasibility clinical trial. The med device startup is a tissue engineering company that's developing smart polymer wraps to transform the efficacy of the vascular surgery industry, which sees five million operations each year.

"We are very pleased to announce that we have successfully enrolled twenty end-stage renal disease patients in our initial feasibility study taking place in Asuncion, Paraguay," says Tim Boire, CEO., in a news release "After years of development, we are confident that our bioabsorbable wrap technology can have a positive impact on the lives of patients that require hemodialysis to sustain life. This is a major milestone toward our mission to improve the quality and length of life for end-stage renal disease patients, as well as others needing vascular surgery."

VenoStent is an alum of TMC Innovation's accelerator and has been named a most promising company by Rice Alliance.

Cart.com announces latest partnership

Cart.com has a new partner, which has increased access to tools for its clients. Photo via cart.com

Houston-based Cart.com, an end-to-end ecommerce services provider and Amazon competitor, has announced yet another new partnership. The company has teamed up with Extend, which provides modern extended warranties and product protection plans. The partnership means that Cart.com merchants have access to a new revenue stream and new ways to increase customer satisfaction by leveraging Extend's platform and technology-enabled proprietary insurance stack.

"Like Cart.com, Extend is fixing the fractured ecommerce ecosystem by providing a truly innovative, effortless, and easy-to-understand service for both merchants and their customers," says Omair Tariq, Cart.com co-founder and CEO, in a news release. "By creating seamless solutions to serve brands, we empower them to focus completely on their customers. The partnership with Extend fits squarely in this view; anyone who has wrangled with extended warranty claims in the past understands the friction involved. Extend is rewriting the rules for product protection and customer service while Cart.com takes care of everything from the factory floor to the customer door. Through this partnership with Extend, we're now seamlessly covering the post-purchase experience too."

Extend launched in 2019 — a time when only the top 1 percent of merchants could offer extended warranties and protection plans to help their customers, according to the release. Now, Extend is valued at $1.6 billion, has raised over $315 million in venture capital, is on track to sell more than three million protection plans in 2021.

"The relationship between an ecommerce company and its customer doesn't end with the sale," says Woodrow Levin, co-founder and CEO of Extend, in the release. "Our technology will allow Cart.com's clients to continue to engage customers after they make a purchase, unlocking opportunities to increase brand loyalty, open new revenue channels, and create lasting customer relationships. Together, we're empowering clients to deliver a better experience for customers and we are excited to continue to build on that vision."

Campus Concierge rebrands to Clutch with revamped website

A Houston startup has just flipped a switch. Image via thatsclutch.com

Campus Concierge is now Clutch, the Houston-based startup announced on its Facebook page last month. The new name also came with a revamped website.

Madison Long and Simone May had the idea for the company when they were undergraduate students at Purdue University and their only option for scoping out basic services — like getting their hair done or hiring a DJ for an event or a photographer for graduation photos — was to ask around among older students. Launched earlier this year, the platform is a marketplace to connect students who have skills or services with potential clients in a safe way. The company, which was a member of DivInc's inaugural Houston accelerator, launched on three college campuses this year — Texas Southern University, Rice University, and Prairie View A&M.

"Building community is so critical given the fact that it's nerve-wracking any time to ask someone for help — especially now that you are coming back to school after a year of being virtual," Long, CEO and co-founder of Clutch, previously told InnovationMap.

The new app is live on three Houston-area college campuses. Photo via campusconciergeapp.com

Houston startup addresses gaps in the gig economy with new app

there's an app for that

Two Houstonians are making student side hustles on college campuses a whole lot safer and easier.

When Madison Long and Simone May were undergraduate students at Purdue University, their only option for scoping out basic services — like getting their hair done or hiring a DJ for an event or a photographer for graduation photos — was to ask around among older students. This planted a seed of a business idea in the two women.

Now, the duo has founded Campus Concierge to provide a platform that acts as a marketplace to connect students who have skills or services with potential clients in a safe way. The company, which was a member of DivInc's inaugural Houston accelerator, launched on three college campuses this year — Texas Southern University, Rice University, and Prairie View A&M.

Campus Concierge timed its arrival to the marketplace with the reopening of college campuses for in-person instruction, knowing there would be a need for connection and access.

"Building community is so critical given the fact that it's nerve-wracking any time to ask someone for help — especially now that you are coming back to school after a year of being virtual," says Long, CEO and co-founder of Campus Concierge.

But prior to launch, all Long and May had was virtual. The duo rolled out a six-week social media campaign, which brought over 2,500 students across six different universities onto the Campus Concierge waitlist before they even stepped foot on a college campus to recruit in person.

Campus Concierge's co-founders Madison Long (right) and Simone May met in college. Photo via campusconciergeapp.com

After initial design and testing, Long and May worked on their product during their time at the DivInc. The accelerator, which was announced to launch in Houston last year, aims to build a more inclusive innovation ecosystem and focuses their work on people-of-color and women-founded businesses. Now, Campus Concierge is looking for investors, and credit DivInc for connecting them with potential VCs, angel groups, and angel investors.

"The institutional investment landscape still does rely on very traditional ways of getting in touch with investors — through intros, warm connections," Long tells InnovationMap. "We've been very lucky to be part of DivInc, who has broken down a lot of those doors and a lot of that ambiguity and created a level of transparency plus formal partnerships with folks like Mercury Fund."

The startup founding experience for Long and May has been a positive experience. Long says Houston's innovation ecosystem has been warm and welcoming.

"It doesn't feel like people are working against you or competing with you," May, the company's CTO, adds. "It feels like everyone is working together, and it is very collaborative."

As Black female founders, Long and May say they are encouraged by the diversity and camaraderie of Houston.

"Coming to a city that is so diverse, we're not the exception to everything," Long says. "There are other founders who look like us who are doing really well that we can lean on as mentors, advisers, and take notes from them. ... There is no other place we would have liked to start this platform."

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Greentown Labs appoints Houston founder among 4 new board members

All a-board

Greentown Labs, a Massachusetts-based climatetech startup incubator with its secondary location in Houston, has appointed four new board members.

Of the new appointees, two community board members have been named in order to act as liaisons between startups and Greentown Labs. Greentown Houston's appointed representation is Nisha Desai, founder and CEO of Intention, and community member. The other new board members are Gilda A. Barabino, president of Olin College of Engineering and professor of biomedical and chemical engineering; Nidhi Thakar, senior director of resource and regulatory strategy and external engagement for Portland General Electric; and Leah Ellis, co-founder and CEO of Sublime Systems, who is the Sommerville location's community board member).

"It is important for a startup incubator to have leadership and insight from stakeholders including the public and private sector, academic and university communities," says Greentown Labs CEO Dr. Emily Reichert in a news release. "These leaders bring a wealth of knowledge relevant to not only climatetech but to our continued growth as an organization. Their voices will be important to have at the table as Greentown charts its course for the next decade of climate action."

Desai's current startup, Intention, is climate impact platform for retail investors, and she has previously worked at six energy-related startups including Ridge Energy Storage, Tessera Solar, and ActualSun, where she was co-founder and CEO. She's also worked in a leadership role at NRG Energy and spent several years as a management consultant with the energy practice of Booz Allen Hamilton — now Strategy&, a PWC company.

"I'm honored to join the board of Greentown Labs as a representative of the startup community," she says in the release. "This is a pivotal time for climate and energy transition. I look forward to working with the rest of the board to expand the collective impact of the Greentown Labs ecosystem."

The four new appointees join seven existing board members:

  • Alicia Barton, CEO of FirstLight Power (Board Chair)
  • Katherine Hamilton, Chair of 38 North Solutions
  • Dawn James, Director of US Sustainability Strategy and Environmental Science at Microsoft
  • Matthew Nordan, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Prime Impact Fund and General Partner at Azolla Ventures
  • Kathleen Theoharides, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
  • Mitch Tyson, Principal at Tyson Associates and Co-Founder of the Northeast Clean Energy Council
  • Dr. Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs

Houston fund makes first local investment in $8M deal

money moves

A Houston-based investment fund has announced its its latest deal that includes an investment into a local direct-to-consumer supplement company.

GP Capital Partners has invested in Qualitas Health, known as iwi, which produces plant-based omega-3 and protein products that's sold directly to consumers as well as retailers across the United States. Iwi's nutrition supplement is sustainably sourced from the company's cultivation pond systems, which are the size of football fields and located in New Mexico and Texas.

“We are excited about our investment in iwi. They have a proprietary and scalable process to create in-demand products in a sustainable manner," says Gina Luna, principal of the fund, in the news release. "We look forward to working with iwi’s management team as they pursue this transformative opportunity.”

The $8 million deal — $5.5 million in senior secured term debt and a $2.5 million direct equity investment — will help iwi accelerate sales of its existing products and ramp up development, marketing, and growth of new protein-based product, according to the release. Iwi will also enter new international markets.

“The iwi team looks forward to working with GP Capital Partners following their investment in our growing company. We have big plans for accelerating our growth, and are pleased to partner with this team that brings both expertise and relationships to support us in this new stage of the company," says Miguel Calatayud, CEO of iwi, in the release.

Outside of GP, the Houston company's other investors include Grupo Indukern, Gullspång Re:food VC, PeakBridge VC, , Arancia Group, Trucent, SASA, and Minrav. GP launched its $275 million fund last year. It's structured as a Small Business Investment Company and will deploy funding into 20 to 25 companies within the Gulf Coast region.

The supplement company is based in Houston. Photo via Instagram

How company behavior guides activists’ choices, according to this Houston researcher

houston voices

It’s been more than 100 years since Pavlov’s dog showed the world that behavior is often guided by forces we don’t comprehend.

The same is true of the interaction between companies and protestors, according to Rice Business professor Alessandro Piazza and Fabrizio Perretti of Bocconi University in Milan. In a recent study, the scholars show that when protestors fight to change a company’s policy, their future choices of where and how much to protest are shaped by the company’s response.

Moreover, the outcome may not be what either group has planned for. Companies that meet protestor demand often inadvertently spur the protestors to demonstrate further; conversely, companies that refuse to give in tend to propel protestors to redirect their energies toward related but different issues.

The researchers based their conclusions on a deep dive into the anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s and 1980s, and a close analysis of protests and company responses in specific locations.

During the time period studied, the researchers found, public sentiment toward nuclear energy changed from mild support to open hostility in the form of an organized protest movement. To quantify this movement’s impact on nuclear power plant construction, the researchers studied the aftermath of protestors’ local victories.

In Massachusetts, for example, the first nuclear power protest in 1974 persuaded Northeast Utilities to postpone, and then permanently cancel, its plant. This reaction, Piazza and Perretti found, catalyzed local protestors. In the years that followed, the region became one of the United States’ strongest bastions of anti-nuclear activism.

In order to quantify how company actions affected protests, the researchers first measured the number of U.S. protest events by geographic location from 1970 to 1995. They then compared this number to the number of nuclear facilities either completed or cancelled over a one-year time period within 100 miles of a given demonstration. They included controls to account for local economic and political differences upon local activism, and for any geographic bias of the newspaper sources used to identify protest events.

The patterns they found were intriguing. Proposing a new plant for construction boosted anti-nuclear protests by 18 percent in a 100-mile radius. Cancelling construction of a plant drove a 27 percent increase in anti-nuclear protests. And when a new nuclear plant was completed and connected to the grid, the researchers witnessed a 2.3 percent increase in the number of protests not directly aimed at nuclear power plants.

The reason for the increase in other protests when a company prevailed and built a power plant? The researchers hypothesize that each time a plant was completed, demoralized activists attached themselves to other movements.

These results raised a related question. Did company decisions on one type of controversy, such as a nuclear power plant, lead to greater support for related protest movements or for unrelated ones? The former, it turns out.

To measure this, the researchers again looked at protests within given regions and categorized them into anti-nuclear weapon protests, environmental protests, public policy protests, anti-war protests and protests against the proximity of a given plant to a specific property, that is, “not in my backyard” protests.

Nuclear power opponents, they found, were most likely to turn to adjacent issues such as protests against nuclear weapons. Protest activities, in other words, have a domino effect.

While most research tracks the effects of activism on companies, Piazza and Perretti’s study shows that the way companies act is also a critical event driver. Company choices can actually drive the evolution of activism, triggering activist mobilization in other causes.

The research represents a challenge to traditional explanations of activism, which usually assume that mobilization and protests are most effective early on then dwindle over time, regardless of the behavior of the organization.

Piazza and Perretti’s findings suggest a valuable lesson for companies, especially those operating in more than one location: Their decisions in one place may actually escalate activism elsewhere. Pacific Gas & Electric successfully acted on this insight in the 1980s. Working with the Sierra Club, the company swapped the cancellation of one site at Bodega Bay, California — the target of frequent protests — for support of a plant at a second site elsewhere in the state at Diablo Canyon.

The findings also offer important insight for activists choosing a company on which to focus. These activists should keep in mind that the companies most likely to capitulate are also the ones most likely to feed a movement going forward — providing, in effect, the possibility of a double win.

Meanwhile, even if they fail in one effort, activists can take heart that their energy isn’t necessarily wasted. Only a little further afield, a similar movement may gain momentum from demoralized protestors looking for a new cause.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and is based on research from Alessandro Piazza, an assistant professor of strategic management at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.