This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes three founders celebrating recent funding — Omair Tariq of Cart.com, Moji Karimi of Cemvita Factory, and Moody Heard of Buildforce. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — who each recently announced new funding — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Omair Tariq, CEO of Cart.com

Omair Tariq's Cart.com raised a big round last week. Photo via Cart.com

Cart.com, an end-to-end e-commerce software startup, announced the close of its series B round at $98 million last week, which brings the company's total funding to $140 million since it launched eight months ago.

"At Cart.com, we believe e-commerce brands should be free to scale up without having to juggle countless outside vendors, and without compromising their unique vision for their brand," says Omair Tariq, CEO of Cart.com, in the release. "Our one-stop platform supports sellers across the full range of e-commerce functionality, empowering them to efficiently scale up and reach new markets using proven, best-of-breed services and technologies."

The new funding will go toward further developing the Cart.com platform. Click here to read more.

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita Factory

Moji Karimi has something to celebrate after last week's news. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita Factory announced the initial close of its series A round. Founded by brother-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi in 2017, the company's technology biomimics photosynthesis to take carbon dioxide and turn it into something else. Cemvita uses this synthetic biology to decarbonize heavy industry across chemical manufacturing, mining, and oil and gas.

"Decarbonizing heavy industry is one of the most critical challenges in addressing climate change," says Moji Karimi, who serves as CEO, in a news release. "Synthetic biology is now primed to revolutionize heavy industries because of its inherent low-carbon advantages, and Cemvita is taking the lead in identifying and derisking the key applications." Click here to read more.

Moody Heard, CEO of BuildForce

Houston-based Buildforce is developing a technology to better connect contractors and the trade professionals they employ. Photo courtesy of Buildforce

Houston-based construction app Buildforce closed its latest round of funding at $4 million. The round was led by Maryland-based TDF Ventures, with participation from existing investor Houston-based Mercury Fund and Austin-based S3 Ventures.

The company uses construction staffing and management software to more efficiently connect contractors to skilled workers across trades — electrical, mechanical, plumbing, flooring, concrete, painting, and more.

"Contractors depend on skilled and reliable tradespeople to meet project timelines," says Moody Heard, co-founder and CEO of Buildforce, in a news release. "Our key insight is that by optimizing the user experience for skilled tradespeople seeking higher pay and job security, we are able to help meet contractors' needs. We're thrilled to have become the partner of choice for the top contractors in our current markets looking to connect with this workforce." Click here to read more.

Buildforce is an app that can connect contractors with construction experts. Photo courtesy of Buildforce

Houston construction tech company raises $4M round

money moves

A locally founded company that's focusing on changing the construction labor game has raised a round of institutional funding.

Buildforce, which splits its headquarters between Houston and Austin, closed its latest round of funding at $4 million. The round was led by Maryland-based TDF Ventures, with participation from existing investor Houston-based Mercury Fund and Austin-based S3 Ventures.

The company uses construction staffing and management software to more efficiently connect contractors to skilled workers across trades — electrical, mechanical, plumbing, flooring, concrete, painting, and more.

"Contractors depend on skilled and reliable tradespeople to meet project timelines," says Moody Heard, co-founder and CEO of Buildforce, in a news release. "Our key insight is that by optimizing the user experience for skilled tradespeople seeking higher pay and job security, we are able to help meet contractors' needs. We're thrilled to have become the partner of choice for the top contractors in our current markets looking to connect with this workforce."

The new funds will support the startup as it scales, grows revenue, develops its product, and more.

"The US has millions of unfilled openings for skilled tradespeople, yet consistent work remains out-of-reach for many construction professionals," says Will Rayner, principal at TDF Ventures, in the release. "Buildforce's exponential growth in 2021 is a testament to the company's ability to connect supply and demand in this difficult labor market at scale."

The company closed an earlier round of funding in April. That round was led by Mercury.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Chris Howard of Softeq, Stephanie Hertzog of Sodexo, and Moody Heard of Buildforce. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In the week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — oil and gas, tech development, and construction staffing — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Chris Howard, CEO of Softeq

On this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Softeq Founder and CEO Chris Howard shares how he's focusing on supporting the Houston innovation ecosystem. Photo courtesy of Softeq

A sign of a blossoming innovation ecosystem is when experienced and successful founders turn their focus to supporting emerging startups. That's what Chris Howard, who founded his tech company over 20 years ago, is looking to do with a new innovation lab and more in the works.

"I want to give back as an entrepreneur and a Houstonian," Howard says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I really want to leverage Softeq's expertise in order to help these companies grow in the same way that we've been doing for a couple of decades now."

Howard shares more about the Softeq Innovation Lab and how COVID-19 has affected his business and technology in general on the episode. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Stephanie Hertzog, CEO of Sodexo

Stephanie Hertzog is hoping the future workforce of her company and others within the energy industry better reflects the city's diverse populations. Photo courtesy of Sodexo

Ever since taking the helm at Houston-based Sodexo Energy Resources North America, CEO Stephanie Hertzog has been intentional with prioritizing diversifying the workforce of the company. In a Q&A with InnovationMap, she notes on how the energy industry has been known as pretty homogeneous, especially within the gender divide. But things are changing.

"And we need to all be focusing on getting more of not only diversity, but inclusion as well," she says. "It's not just about hiring a diverse group, it's about making those people feel included when they get here and having them want to stay and be a part of our industry." Read more.

Additionally this week, Hertzog expands on her call for the energy industry to diversify in a guest column for InnovationMap. Click here to read it.

Moody Heard, CEO of BuildForce

Houston-based Buildforce is developing a technology to better connect contractors and the trade professionals they employ. Photo courtesy of Buildforce

A Houston innovator is tapping into tech to disrupt a booming industry in Houston, Texas, and beyond .Buildforce is a construction staffing app that aims to more efficiently connect contractors to skilled workers in trades ranging from electrical, mechanical, and plumbing to flooring, concrete, painting, and more.

The company raised a $1.5 million pre-seed round led by Houston-based Mercury Fund and is led by CEO Moody Heard.

"Our key insight is that providing a superior service to construction employers starts with providing a superior experience for tradesmen and women," Heard says in a news release. "Talent is the greatest finite resource in construction in Texas. In order to deliver talent to our contractor partners, we've created a job placement experience that is simple, friendly, and transparent. That's something people in the construction trades aren't used to, and has helped us grow incredibly quickly over the past several months." Click here to read more.

Houston-based Buildforce is developing a technology to better connect contractors and the trade professionals they employ. Photo via Getty Images

Houston construction staffing startup emerges from stealth with $1.5 pre-seed funding

building tech

A Houston startup has been quietly working on a tech solution for construction staffing and has now emerged from stealth mode to announce a recent funding round as well as an acquisition.

Launched in July of 2020, Buildforce is a construction staffing app that aims to more efficiently connect contractors to skilled workers in trades ranging from electrical, mechanical, and plumbing to flooring, concrete, painting, and more, according to a news release. The company raised a $1.5 million pre-seed round led by Houston-based Mercury Fund.

Co-founder and CEO Moody Heard, who previously served as senior investment analyst at Mercury, says the tech product — the Buildforce Contractor App — will have a big impact on Texas, which is experiencing growing construction volume across the state.

Moody Heard is the co-founder and CEO of Buildforce. Photo courtesy of Buildforce

"Our key insight is that providing a superior service to construction employers starts with providing a superior experience for tradesmen and women," Heard says in the release. "Talent is the greatest finite resource in construction in Texas. In order to deliver talent to our contractor partners, we've created a job placement experience that is simple, friendly, and transparent. That's something people in the construction trades aren't used to, and has helped us grow incredibly quickly over the past several months."

In addition to emerging from stealth and raising its first funds, Buildforce has announced the acquisition of a Houston-based construction staffing business, TRIO Talent.This deal allows Buildforce to tap into TRIO's high school pre-apprenticeship programs that's among the largest in the state.

Buildforce is currently working out of a 2,500-square-foot office in Greenway Plaza, and has plans to expand later this year in both Houston and Austin, per the release. The startup's team includes members who previously worked at digital labor marketplace companies like Uber and Favor.

"Buildforce really has two serious advantages," says Vu Brown, co-founder and COO, in the release. "The first is exclusive access to newly trained skilled trades talent across the state of Texas. The second is our team. We are a unique combination of digital labor marketplace and construction experts, with decades of combined learnings from the top industry players in those two categories."

Buildforce is an app that can connect contractors with construction experts. Photo courtesy of Buildforce

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Experts: How to better prepare Houston to combat climate related challenges

guest column

Houston is no stranger to hurricanes, and in recent years winter storms have become an increasing concern. Following the winter freeze in 2021, more than 4 million Texans were left without power, water, or heat. The state’s infrastructure system was adversely impacted concurrently — including workplaces, hospitals, transportation, homes, drinking water distribution, electric power generation, agriculture, and grocery stores. Now, a new potential disaster is on the horizon. Recent research shows Houston is most likely to be affected by wildfires, a climate-related challenge that our city has not previously faced.

According to the Gensler Research Institute’s 2022 U.S. Climate Action Survey, since 2019, only 18 percent of Americans believe their communities are built to withstand climate change. The good news is Americans overwhelmingly agree that addressing climate change is urgent. The question many are asking is — “How can we take action to better prepare buildings and cities to weather the climate challenge?” The solution is simple. In order to understand where we need to go, we must understand how we got here.

With a population that has more than doubled in the past 50 years, it is challenging for most Houstonians to imagine a time when The Bayou City was nothing more than agricultural lands and oil fields. Today, Houston is known for being the fourth-most populous city in the United States. It is a sprawling concrete jungle home to the world’s largest concentration of healthcare and research institutions. When reflecting on the past 50 years, one can’t help but evaluate the city’s successes and shortcomings. While Houston has succeeded in becoming a diverse, international city, we have sacrificed the very ecology that once made up one of the country’s most productive agricultural areas. By 1980, Houston possessed the least amount of green space per person in the country.

As new developments popped up across the city, it became difficult to convince developers to pursue third-party certifications such as LEED, a globally recognized symbol of sustainability that provides the framework for designing healthy, efficient, carbon saving buildings. We can credit Hines with being one of the few developers in Houston to prioritize green design during the early-2000s. City leaders also began advocating for resilient strategies and more green space to attract and retain international talent and businesses. In recent years, we have seen an increase in buildings that are achieving LEED certification, and soon it will become the baseline.

The Houston Advanced Research Center, Photography by Shau Lin Hon, Slyworks Photography

An example of a project leading the way for resilient design is The Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC). In 2017 the organization completed work on its LEED Platinum Certified headquarters which was designed to meet the ENERGY STAR certification rate of 99 (out of 100). This means that the building is more efficient than 99 percent of all office buildings in the United States. Skanska is another construction and development company bringing a sustainable mindset to downtown Houston with its work on Bank of America Tower. In 2019, the 775,000 square foot building became the largest LEED v4 Platinum Core and Shell certified project in the world to date and was developed with harvesting technology that will significantly reduce energy usage.

It’s also important to understand the impact that the climate crisis is having on people. 91 percent of U.S. Gen Z/Millennials have been affected by extreme weather events since 2019, the most of any generation. These experiences have resulted in two generations preparing to react and combat climate change and has encouraged a spirit of transparency among companies who choose to share their environmental goals and strategies.

For architects and designers, addressing building and energy codes is proving to be the next big design consideration. As codes progress in the coming years, the result will be more unique and unexpected building designs.

When reimagining the use of buildings, Architects Paulina Abella and Tayler Trojcak propose an experimental process for repurposing vacant buildings called High Hackers. The concept provides an opportunity for developers to offer prime downtown real estate to people with diverse skill sets, whom they call “hackers,” to pursue projects shaped by their individual ideas. These hackers—makers, artists, and academics—will work alongside one another in spaces that encourage them to coexist with creatives from other fields and disciplines. More importantly, it fosters a collaborative, organic, and innovative workflow.

When examining how you can better prepare and respond to ongoing climate-related challenges, we encourage prioritizing marginalized communities that are already experiencing most of the negative impacts. Promoting awareness and optimism in our communities is another simple yet effective way to make a difference. For businesses, creating a sense of continuity in the face of climate events, investing in energy and resource efficiency and adaptation, and addressing insurability and the long-term value of real estate will ultimately help lead Houston and its community members toward a place of preparedness and resiliency.

------

Rives Taylor directs Gensler’s Global Design Resilience teams and initiatives and has been a faculty member of both Rice University and the University of Houston for 30 years. Maria Perez is a design resilience leader for Gensler’s South Central region and director of sustainable design based in Gensler’s Houston office.

Houston 3D printing company selected inaugural competition

winner, winner

A Houston company has been announced among the winners of an inaugural seed fund expo competition.

Twelve startups were announced across four categories in the U.S. Small Business Administration's inaugural America’s Seed Fund Startup Expo 2022, which is taking place virtually Wednesday, May 25, from 11:30 am to 3:30 pm. Each of the 12 companies have developed innovative technologies with the help of SBIR grants.

“Every day, in communities across America, entrepreneurs are solving our nation’s most pressing challenges from climate change to feeding and healing the world. The SBA is committed to helping ensure that those ideas receive the necessary support from federal programs and innovation ecosystems so that they can commercialize and grow into resilient businesses,” says Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman in a news release.

“With the launch of America's Seed Fund Expo, we will showcase exceptional entrepreneurs who have leveraged federal research and development funding through the SBIR Program in key industries and connect them to resources to advance their game-changing innovations right here in America,” she continues.

Houston-based Re:3D is among the companies selected to present at the expo. The complete list of participating companies is as follows:

  • AgTech and Food Security
    • General Probiotics (Saint Paul, MN)
    • Nucleic Sensing Systems (Saint Paul, MN)
    • Shellfish Solutions d/b/a Blue Trace (Castine, ME)
  • Climate and Energy
    • Amorphic Tech (Allentown, PA)
    • FGC Plasma Solutions (Middleton, MA)
    • Hydroplane (Lancaster, CA)
  • National Security and Defense
    • BadVR (Pacoima, CA)
    • Enduralock (Lenexa, KS)
    • PSYONIC (Champaign, IL)
  • Supply Chain Resiliency
    • Chromatic 3D Materials (Golden Valley, MN)
    • Delta Development Team (Tucson, AZ)
    • Re:3D (Houston, TX)

“The giants of future industries so often start as small business startups with big ideas," says Bailey DeVries, associate administrator of the office of investment and innovation, in the news release. "We know the public and private sectors must work together to nurture these small businesses with big ideas over many years so they may sustain and grow. America’s Seed Fund Startup Expo will lift up big ideas and provide a platform for our national innovation community to support the businesses of tomorrow."

The event is free to attend virtually, and anyone can register online at https://bit.ly/SeedFundExpoRSVP. The America’s Seed Fund is among the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs and is collaborates with 11 federal agencies, that collectively support more than $4 billion a year in federal research and development funding.

Rice University students raise funds to invest in the energy transition

seeing green

A group of Rice University students have added a new extracurricular to their transcript.

Launched last fall, Rice New Energy Fund, or RNEF, is the country's first student-managed energy transition investment fund, according to a news release from Rice. The fund's goal is to generate returns for scholarships while advancing decarbonization technology and providing education and diversity in investment.

“We needed more funds and a more focused strategy to be competitive,” Shikhar Verma , class of ’24 and founder of the fund, says in the release. “Everyone in Houston is talking about the energy transition, but not many people know what that actually entails. We want students to learn how to be responsible financiers and lead this transition.”

To join, students are required to participate in the Rice Undergraduate Finance Club’s training program and undergraduate investment fund, since the RNEF operates as a part of the club. Anyone can join the program, no matter their major.

“Our team’s diverse academic background allows us to explore investments more holistically,” Verma says. “For instance, we have engineers who can evaluate technologies and scaling risk and pre-law students to appraise the regulatory and policy environment.”

Verma says he and his fellow team members have tapped into a group of mentors, advisers and donors for the fund, including former Rice Board of Trustees chair Bobby Tudor as well as renowned executives Steve Pattyn and Stephen Trauber, per the release.

The RNEF has raised $200,000 in donations, and plans to start investing in the fall with a hope to create a portfolio of 200 new energy-related companies.

“We needed more funds and a more focused strategy to be competitive,” Verma said. “Everyone in Houston is talking about the energy transition, but not many people know what that actually entails. We want students to learn how to be responsible financiers and lead this transition.”