The Founders District in West Houston has an NFT investment opportunity. Rendering via foundersdistrict.com

Developers are turning to blockchain technology to help finance a new indoor-outdoor bar at Houston’s Founders District innovation campus.

Under the umbrella of the Powder Keg Collective, the Powder Keg bar is selling non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to finance construction and operation of its 14,000-square-foot expansion. NFTs, similar to cryptocurrencies, are stored on a blockchain and represent ownership of a unique asset.

The new venue will be at 1300 Brittmoore Rd., near the existing Powder Keg bar and The Cannon West Houston entrepreneurial hub. Aside from catering to everyday patrons, the venue will host community events, festivals, private events, and concerts.

Buyers of the Powder Keg NFTs will be entitled to gain proceeds from the development, and will receive beer discounts, access to VIP events, and other privileges.

“These utility NFTs provide owners with tangible financial value and membership in a real estate club, not empty hype,” Mark Toon, co-owner of the Powder Keg, The Cannon and the Founders District, says in a news release.

“The Powder Keg Collective is another way we’re building community around technology, demystifying it, and bringing together Houstonians — whether they’re investors, NFT collectors, crypto-enthusiasts, or people who just want a stake in their neighborhood bar.”

On the Ethereum blockchain platform, the collective will sell 2,361 tokens ranging in price from $250 to $500,000 each. Tokens can be purchased with cryptocurrencies or U.S. dollars. The venue itself will accept the same two payment methods.

The Powder Keg is planning an expansion. Photo courtesy

Chevron has doubled down on its commitment to The Cannon in West Houston, a new study finds Houston a top city for STEM, a Houston startup takes home a win from a digital pitch competition, and more. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Chevron to launch makerspace at The Cannon, Houston a top city for STEM, and more innovation news

Short stories

Houston's innovation ecosystem has been booming with news, and it's likely some might have fallen through the cracks.

For this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a startup snags a win at a pitch competition, Chevron announces a new makerspace, a software company makes an acquisition, and more.

Houston named a best city for STEM

Image via SmartAsset

For the fifth year, personal finance website, SmartAsset, analyzed data for the 35 cities in the county with the largest STEM workforces. The study looked at the racial diversity index as well as the gender diversity index. The data for both metrics comes from the Census Bureau's 2019 1-year American Community Survey.

Houston ranked No. 7 on the list, and according to the report, the total number of STEM workers in Houston, Texas exceeds 79,500. Around 70 percent of the total STEM workers there are men, and more than 30 percent are women. Additionally, Houston has the third-best race/ethnicity index score in the study with more than 19 percent of STEM workers are Hispanic or Latino, almost 20 percent are Asian, and more than 8 percent are Black.

Texas makes up about a third of the top 10 list with Dallas and Fort Worth coming in at No. 9 and No.10, respectively.

Chevron announces digital makerspace in The Cannon

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

The Cannon and its surrounding Founders District in West Houston has announced the addition of Chevron's digital makerspace, which will be dedicated to startup partnerships and community organizations.

"Chevron's support for The Founders District and The Cannon expands our commitment to Houston's growing innovation ecosystem," says Barbara Burger, Chevron vice president, Innovation and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, in a news release. "We look forward to utilizing this new space to collaborate with other Chevron organizations, such as our Wells group, as we work to deliver more reliable, affordable, ever-cleaner energy."

While Chevron has been a key partner for The Cannon since 2018 and even had branded office space within the hub, this new space represents a new lease agreement for a significantly larger footprint.

"We are thrilled to partner with Chevron Technology Ventures in developing this exciting makerspace at The Founders District," says Mark Toon, CEO of Puma Development, the company developing The Founders District and founder of Work America Capital, a venture capital firm dedicated to investing in Houston-based businesses. "CTV is the paradigm for meaningful innovation in Houston. By investing in emerging technologies in energy, they are paving the way for innovation to remain at the heart of Houston's most prominent industry."

Lazarus 3D wins The Ion's pitch competition

Photo via Laz3d.com

After months of pitching events, The Ion's Startup Demo Day for 2020 concluded on November 18 with four final pitches from Lazarus 3D, Skylark Wireless, HelloWoofy, and Swoovy.

After each of the four founders presented at the virtual event, which was powered by Dell Technologies, Lazarus 3D, a startup that produces 3D-printed organs and tissues for surgical practice, took home the win and the cash prize.

"I'm so grateful to Ion Houston — I've met so many people and made so many connections," says Smriti Zaneveld, co-founder and president. "All of the companies that present at these events are doing something so meaningful."

Applications are now open for the next series. Apply online by clicking here.

Houston tech co. acquires New Zealand business

Photo via Onit.com

Houston-based Onit Inc., a legal software provider, announced that the company has acquired McCarthyFinch and its artificial intelligence platform.

"Our vision is to build AI into our workflow platform and every product across the Onit and SimpleLegal product portfolios," says Eric M. Elfman, Onit CEO and co-founder, in a news release. "AI will have an active role in everything from enterprise legal management to legal spend management and contract lifecycle management, resulting in continuous efficiencies and cost savings for corporate legal departments.

"Historically, legal departments have been thought of as black boxes where requests go in and information, decisions or contracts come out with no real transparency," Elfman continues. "AI has the potential to enhance transparency and contribute to stronger enterprise-wide business collaboration in a way that conserves a lawyer's valuable time."

The newly acquired software has the capacity to accelerate contract processing by up to 70 percent and increase productivity by over 50 percent. With the acquisition, Onit is enhancing its new artificial intelligence platform Precedent and the company's first release on the platform will be ReviewAI.

New sustainability-focused app launches at Climathon

Photo courtesy of Footprint

Houston-based Footprint App Inc. launched its latest carbon footprint education and action software during the Houston Climathon that was hosted earlier this month by Impact Hub Houston.

By tracking the user's sustainable habits, the student-focused tool allows users to compete to reduce their environmental impact. Footprint has launched in over 50 classrooms across the nation and is also being used by several corporations.

"With the state of Texas recently receiving an 'F' in climate education from the National Science Foundation, we see Footprint as the perfect tool for K-12 and beyond to help Texas students engage with climate science in a fun, competitive way," says Dakota Stormer, Footprint App, Inc. CEO and co-founder, in a news release.

Chris Buckner has secured a $6.8 million series A round for his Houston-based esports company thanks to support from a local investment firm. Courtesy of Mainline

Houston esports company closes $6.8 million series A round led by local investor

Show me the money

A Houston software company is cashing in on the growing esports industry with a multimillion-dollar fundraising round led by a local investor.

Mainline, which specializes in esports tournament software and management, closed its series A at $6.8 million. Houston-based Work America Capital led the round, and Mainline will use the funds to grow its platform, event management customer base, and marketing efforts, as well as to hire developers, marketing, and sales talent.

"The world of esports and gaming is exploding; however, continuity in tournament organization is lacking, keeping the sport from really taking off in other viable and exciting markets," says Chris Buckner, Mainline CEO, in a news release. "Mainline gives brands the tools they need to run powerful esports programs that will evolve the quickly maturing industry to the benefit of players, students, and the greater esports ecosystem."

Mainline, which spun off its sports engagement business earlier this year into a company now called Truss, created a white-labeled tournament platform for esports that's used by various clients across the industry and was instrumental to ESPN's inaugural Collegiate Esports Championship that was hosted in Houston earlier this year.

Work America Capital has supported sports technology in town before — including Houston-based Integrated Bionics, which has developed a GPS- and video-optimized sensor used by athletes around the world.

"As with any industry that takes off like a rocket, problems arise that must be solved through innovation," says Mark Toon, managing partner of Work America Capital, in the release. "Mainline is standardizing, organizing and optimizing the esports industry, paving the way for more players, more teams, more money and bigger, better tournaments."

Mainline is focused on expanding its services as esports continues to grow. According to the release, the total industry revenue for this year is expected to reach $1.1 billion worldwide, and viewership numbers have jumped from 335 million to 454 million in just two years.

"The strategic vision of Mainline puts them in the driver's seat with a consistent platform across amateur, collegiate and professional competitions," says Toon. "Given Mainline's partnerships and customers, they have paved a way to grow quickly across all sports and into other markets. We are excited to dedicate our time, resources and capital to the company."


Mainline has created a white-labeled software for esports gaming and tournaments. Courtesy of Mainline

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Houston-based VC secures oversubscribed $160M fund for early-stage startups

show me the money

A Houston venture capital firm has announce big news of its latest fund.

Mercury, founded in 2005 to invest in startups not based in major tech hubs on either coast, closed its latest fund, Mercury Fund V, at an oversubscribed amount of $160 million. Originally expected to raise $150 million, Fund V is the largest fund Mercury has raised to date.

“We are pleased by the substantial support we received for Fund V from both new and existing investors and thank them for placing their confidence in Mercury,” Blair Garrou, co-founder and managing director of Mercury Fund, says in a news release. “Their support is testament to the strength of our team, proven investment strategy, and the compelling opportunities for innovation that exist in cities across America.”

The fund's limited partners include new and existing investors, including endowments at universities, foundations, and family offices. Mercury reports that several of these LPs are based in the central region of the United States where Mercury invests. California law firm Gunderson Dettmer was the fund formation counsel for Mercury.

Fresh closed, Fund V has already made investments in several companies, including:

  • Houston-based RepeatMD, a patient engagement and fintech platform for medical professionals with non-insurance reimbursed services and products
  • Houston and Cheyenne Wyoming-based financial infrastructure tech platform Brassica, which raised its $8 million seed round in April
  • Polco, a Madison, Wisconsin-based polling platform for local governments, school districts, law enforcement, and state agencies
  • Chicago-based MSPbots, a AI-powered process automation platform for small and mid-sized managed service providers

Mercury's investment model is described as "operationally-focused," and the firm works to provide its portfolio companies with the resources needed to grow rapidly and sustainably. Since 2013, the fund has contributed to creating more than $9 billion of enterprise value across its portfolio of over 50 companies.

“Over the past few years there has been a tremendous migration of talent, wealth and know-how to non-coastal venture markets and this surge of economic activity has further accelerated the creation of extraordinary new companies and technology," says Garrou. "As the first venture capital firm to have recognized the attractiveness of these incredible regions a dozen years ago, we are excited to continue sourcing new opportunities to back founders and help these cities continue to grow and thrive.”

Real estate giant taps downtown Houston tower for new smart building tech

hi, tech

Houston-based real estate giant Hines is rolling out a new smart building platform with the goal of better serving workers and workplaces at its buildings across the country, including one building in Houston that's aiming to be an office building of the future.

From the employee perspective, the new Hines app will allow employees and employers to book spaces within buildings, order food from on-site cafes and restaurants, book on-site fitness classes and access the building via their smartphone or smartwatch. For employers and tenants, the app will help them gain insights into building performance, occupancy data, ESG targets and employee satisfaction, according to a statement from Hines.

“We’re committed to a people-centric experience and this investment takes that commitment to the next level,” Ilene Goldfine, chief digital strategy officer at Hines, says in a statement. “The traditional systems were managed building by building and made it difficult or impossible to track performance across a portfolio. This new digital ecosystem, which unites back-end technology with front-end experiences, will deliver long-term cost savings to our investors and clients.

"Our clients will also be able to track employee satisfaction, make informed decisions about their space needs and ensure they’re monitoring their carbon targets,” Goldfine continues.

The new digital platform will be launched at eight Hines buildings across five cities, including 717 Texas Ave., a 33-story Class A office tower in Downtown Houston.

The other buildings where Hines will roll out the app include:

  • Salesforce Tower in Chicago
  • 1144 15th Street in Denver
  • The Kearns Building in Salt Lake City
  • CIBC Square in Toronto
  • T3 Bayside in Toronto
  • Two buildings at T3 Sterling Road in Toronto

The company plans to add more locations across its global portfolio.

Hines' opened its first location of The Square coworking space at 717 Texas Ave. in 2020 as part of its coworking concept Hines². The company, in collaboration with Montreal-based Ivanhoé Cambridge, opened a second Houston location of The Square recently and has a coworking space in The Kearns Building in Salt Lake City where it will roll out the new app.

Earlier this year, Hines also launched a sustainability-focused business unit, known as EXP by Hines. The unit, led by Hines veteran Doug Holte, aims to address “the disruptive changes in the built environment.”

Houston expert encourages energy industry to bridge its generational divides

guest column

What’s the biggest obstacle between us and net-zero? Is it policy? Technology? Financing? All of these are important, yes, but none of them is what is really holding us back from our energy transition goals.

The biggest obstacle is a lack of open-mindedness and an unwillingness of people across the industry and across generations to work together.

In October of 2022, I was invited to speak at Energy Dialogues’s North American Gas Forum, a conference that brings together executives from across the energy industry. Over the two days of the conference, I was amazed by the forward-thinking conversations we were having on decarbonization, the future of clean energy, emissions reduction, and much more. I returned back to campus at Duke University, energized by these conversations and excited to share them. But rather than seeing the same sense of excitement, I was met with doubt, disbelief, even scorn.

There’s a fundamental distrust between generations in this industry, and it goes both ways. Experienced energy professionals often see the younger generation as irrational idealists who are too politicized to be pragmatic, while the younger generation often paints the older generation as uncaring climate denialists who want nothing to do with clean energy. Neither is true.

Over the past two years since founding Energy Terminal, I’ve met hundreds (maybe thousands) of people all across the energy industry, from CEOs of major energy companies to students just getting started on their career journey. Despite being so different on the surface, their goals are strikingly similar. Almost all can agree on three things: we want to reduce emissions, we want to expand energy access, and we want to do so while encouraging economic prosperity. The perceived barrier between generations in the energy industry is exponentially larger than the actual barrier.

For experienced professionals — take a chance to engage in conversations with young energy leaders. Understand their priorities, listen to their concerns, and find the middle ground. We are a generation passionate about impact and growth, and enabled with the right resources, we can do incredible things. The changing energy world presents unbelievable opportunities for both progress and profit, but without the next generation on board, it will never be sustainable.

For the young energy leaders of the future–listen to the experiences of the leaders that have come before us. Understand the balance between energy that is clean with energy that is secure, reliable, and affordable. We have brilliant ideas and an insatiable appetite for progress, but we won’t do it alone. Every person and every company has a valuable role to play in the energy transition, so consider how we can amplify our strengths rather than attack each other’s weaknesses.

If my co-founder, a climate activist from New York, and myself, the son of an oil and gas family from south Texas, can do it, so can you. This is a call to find the middle ground, to open up your mind to new possibilities, and to make real progress by working with each other rather than against each other.

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Michael Wood III is co-founder of Energy Terminal, a platform that aims to build the next generation of energy leaders and to bridge the gap between youth and the energy industry.

This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.