The Cannon has announced plans to acquire Houston-based crowdfunding startup LetsLaunch. Courtesy of Quy Tran/The Cannon

The Cannon, a Houston startup development organization with a network of coworking hubs, has announced its plans to acquire a Houston fintech startup.

LetsLaunch, an online investment platform that allows for smaller investments from non-accredited investors, has been connected with The Cannon in the past, and the two entities have even had a partnership arrangement. Now, The Cannon has plans to acquire LetsLaunch in order to provide Cannon member companies with the fundraising option.

"The Cannon and LetsLaunch have a shared vision for enabling and optimizing the innovation ecosystem," says Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, in a news release. "LetsLaunch has passionately developed a technology platform that will deliver significant value to the entrepreneurial community by bringing together start-ups and investors of all kinds. By integrating the LetsLaunch platform into The Cannon's digital offerings, we will enhance the fundraising and strategic connection value we offer to our innovation community."

Lambert says the opportunity to provide The Cannon's members this opportunity to fundraise comes at an important time.

"Fundraising in the COVID-19/Post COVID-19 era is, and is likely to remain, a bit of an unknown," he continues in the release. "Adding another viable funding channel for the startups in our community who are ready for investment will be a valued benefit for our members and will provide us exposure to a whole new group of entrepreneurial investors."

The terms of the deal haven't been disclosed, but it is expected to close in June 2020. The transaction remains subject to customary closing conditions and approvals.

"We built LetsLaunch to provide broad segments of the population with a mechanism to invest in startups, while giving startups another source of capital," says Nick Carnrite, who co-founded LetsLaunch in 2018, in the release. "Crowdfunding will always remain at LetsLaunch's core, but it also became clear we had a role to play in connecting the innovation community, including startups, investors, advisors, mentors and service providers, based on their location, interests and preferences."

According to the release, the acquisition falls in line with both companies' missions to help develop an ecosystem of resources for startups.

"[LetsLaunch's] vision is completely complementary to The Cannon's goal to develop a tightly integrated innovation ecosystem," adds Brian Coyle, co-founder of LetsLaunch. "There is no better time to work together to help support private businesses."

Houston-based Sensorfield was selected to participate in a Chevron Technology Ventures program. Courtesy of Sensorfield

Houston biotech company closes $120M Series B, Chevron taps local startup for program, and more innovation news

Short stories

Big things are happening in Houston — from a $120 million close to the U.S. Department of Energy picking a Houston-area company for nuclear energy research. Here are the highlights of Houston innovation news you might have missed.

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Houston immunotherapy company raises $120 million in funding

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AlloVir, a Houston biotech company founded at Baylor's Center for Cell and Gene Therapy, has closed a $120 million Series B round that was led by Fidelity Management and Research Company. Other contributors included Gilead Sciences, F2 Ventures, Redmile Group, Invus, EcoR1 Capital, Samsara BioCapital, and Leerink Partners Co-investment Fund, LLC.

The company is currently in clinical trials for its immunotherapy technology and also announced it is joining the ElevateBio — a Boston-based organization that combines a group of cell and gene therapy companies — portfolio.

"We are excited to now be building AlloVir as an ElevateBio portfolio company," says Ann Leen, AlloVir co-founder, CSO, and Professor of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, in a release. "This partnership provides AlloVir with fully integrated bench-to-bedside capabilities to accelerate the development and commercialization of our allogeneic, off-the-shelf, multi-virus specific T- cell immunotherapies."

Allovir, which until recently was known as ViraCyte, was founded in 2013.

Chevron taps Houston startup for pilot program

Photo courtesy of Sensorfield

Houston-based Sensorfield LLC, which has developed a suite of wireless sensors for industrial monitoring, has announced that it has been selected for Chevron Technology Ventures' Catalyst Program.

"Technology has finally reached the point where embedded solar-powered, plug-and-play industrial wireless sensors are possible at a low cost,'' says Sensorfield founder and CEO, Strode Pennebaker, in a release. "Our exciting new association with Chevron is a major step in our goal to bring cost-effective, high-quality intelligent remote monitoring to asset owners at any scale."

Department of Energy selects a Houston-area company for funding

Courtesy of the DOE

U.S. Department of Energy is awarding $10.6 million for nuclear technology development across three projects in three states — one is in Wadsworth, Texas, about 80 miles outside of Houston.

The company, STP Nuclear Operating Company, will receive $1.18 million in DOE funding, according to a release, to develop and implement advanced fire probabilistic risk assessment — or PRA — modeling techniques.

"These projects are important because they will help the U.S. continue to develop advanced reactors and technologies to support nuclear energy as a safe, zero-emissions baseload energy source," says Carrie Edwards, senior adviser for the Office of Nuclear Energy at the DOE, in an email.

Rice University launches executive education program in The Woodlands

Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business — in partnership with The Woodlands Area Economic Development Partnership — has created The Leadership Accelerator. It's the first time Rice has brought an open enrollment program to the area.

The program will take place from October 7 to 10 program at the former Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. office buildings in Hughes Landing (2103 Research Forest Drive). Professor Brent Smith will lead the course .

The four-day course will build upon established managers' careers and give them an opportunity to study best practices for creating a more productive organization.

Carnrite Ventures expands to Austin

Courtesy of Nick Carnrite

Houston-based The Carnrite Group's investment arm, Carnrite Ventures, has agreed to invest with Seraph Group. The partnership allows for the Houston VC group to expand its portfolio to Austin, as that's where Seraph's last fund focused on.

"Austin's venture capital funds have moved up-market to series B and C funding rounds, which has created a need for more capital in earlier stages and provides us with an opportunity," says Nick Carnrite, Managing Director of The Carnrite Group and Carnrite Ventures, in a release.

Houston scientifically-designed athleticwear startup launches men's line

Courtesy of Accel Lifestyle

Accel Lifestyle, a Houston-based athletic clothing line made with its patented anti-stink material, has launched its menswear line.

"After three years in the making, I'm beyond thrilled to announce that Accel Lifestyle Men's Collection has launched," says Megan Eddings, founder of Accel. "We are focusing on shirts (t-shirts and tanks), and we are planning to launch the women's collection late next month."

The products are made in America and all ethically sourced — even the product's shipping material, as it has zero plastic involved.

From debt and equity funds to crowdfunding and angel investment, here's what you need to know about the fundraising world from an expert who's in it. Getty Images

Houston entrepreneur gives his advice on navigating the evolving fundraising process

know before you grow

New businesses face many challenges when getting started, but perhaps none are as challenging and intimidating as how to secure the funding needed to start and grow your business.

Funding options have evolved considerably over the past several years, providing business owners with more choices than ever to fund their business. Founders should not just think about selecting one option but how to combine multiple options into a funding strategy that best suits their business needs.

Over 600,000 new businesses are started in the United States each year, and even with more fundraising options, we are increasingly seeing businesses struggle to get funded, so businesses need to be smart about putting together a funding strategy.

The traditional way to fund a business
With that piece of advice out of the way, there are two primary categories of capital: debt and equity. For your business, debt options may include personal loans, business loans, asset-based loans, revenue participation notes and factoring (where you sell your receivables at a discount in order to collect cash now).

Debt is great as it means you're not giving away equity, but, at the same time, the loan must eventually be paid back (with interest) and some businesses such as technology start-ups may not generate the cash flow needed to make this happen from day one. Loans can also be difficult to access or may require the business owner to put up a personal guarantee, although there are organizations that facilitate this such as Small Business Association. If this is the best route for your business, take the time to find the right lending organization.

Equity options include common stock and preferred stock, as well as convertible note instruments that are initially treated as debt but "convert" to equity at a future financing event. Unlike traditional equity, convertible note instruments allow you to delay establishing a valuation for your business, which can be challenging for startups. SAFE (Simple Agreement for Future Equity) and KISS (Keep It Simple Securities) Notes are emerging securities which are less frequent but are seen as more Founder friendly and are similar in some ways to convertible notes.

There are a lot of business owners that are cautious of giving away equity (and rightly so) but with the right advice on structuring securities and valuation, this can be a great source of capital, as well as knowledge and support if you find the right investors and partners.

Sources of funding for both debt and equity include friends, family, banks, angel investors, venture capital, private equity, and organizations such as the Small Business Association. The accessibility of these various options will depend on the maturity of your business, your industry and the needs of your company. Often, early-stage companies may source "seed" funding from friends, family, and angel investors, while venture capital, private equity, and debt become increasingly accessible at later stages as revenues grow.

How is funding changing?
Options for funding a business and investing have evolved considerably in recent years. Crowdsourcing, which can be defined as the process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, has taken the world by storm. Companies such as Uber, AirBnb, and Grubhub all leverage "the crowd" to provide a service.

Crowdsourcing has made its way to finance as well, where companies such as GoFundMe and KickStarter have provided new tools to fund charitable causes and projects. The Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act) of 2012 set in motion a series of regulatory changes that allowed anybody (not just high wealth individuals) to invest in private businesses and provided crowdfunding as an option to raise capital for small businesses.

Online crowdfunding portals such as LetsLaunch, SeedInvest, and WeFunder offer both debt and equity options for investors to invest in your business. Not only can this be a great way to build up a loyal customer base, test your product and get some great marketing exposure but it can also be a great way to supplement the traditional funding strategies mentioned above.

However you choose to fund your business, take the time to work through the options (both traditional and emerging) and find the right option or combination of options to meet your business needs.

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Nick Carnrite is managing director of Carnrite Group and co-founder and CEO of LetsLaunch.

LetsLaunch, a new Houston-based fundraising platform, helps companies of all sizes get funding from any type of investor. Courtesy of LetsLaunch

Houston fundraising platform launches for the next generation of investors

Future funders

Millennials are expected to exceed the Baby Boomer generation for the United States' largest living adult generation this year, and this massive population of people have a completely different approach to investing.

Nick Carnrite saw that Millennials were to a point where they had extra income, but when he looked at the statistics, he noticed they aren't buying houses for the most part and were turned off of the stock market. There was a huge amount of stranded capital, and he wanted to figure out how to get that invested into businesses.

"The younger generation isn't interested in typical investing, but they are absolutely interested in supporting their community and the businesses in it, especially if the investment lets them experience the business and come along for the ride if it works," Carnrite, who is the co-founder and CEO of LetsLaunch, says.

Houston-based LetsLaunch is a new investment platform that launched December 28, though has been in the works since January 2018. The site works, in many ways, like a crowdfunding site, only investors receive equity. Due to regulations, investment campaigns max out at around a million dollars.

In the past, entrepreneurs have had to seek out major investors through venture capitalists or large funds, since taking smaller investments is tedious and almost more trouble than its worth. However, LetsLaunch provides a platform where smaller investments are streamlined and encouraged.

"Our goal in all of this is just to take a complicated process and make it simple, the same way Turbotax takes something awful like taxes and makes it simple, we are trying to do that with investing," Carnrite says.

Investors don't have to be accredited or invest a certain amount of money — something that for so long has hindered startups' ability to raise money.

"For whatever reason, we've decided to alienate about 95 percent of Americans as far as being able to invest in private businesses," Carnrite says. "Finally, we're at the point where all of that capital that was stranded and not allowed in private companies is being funneled into that cause."

According to Carnrite and his associate, Rhian Davies, who is the company's director of business operations, the mission is to educate and simplify the investing process.

"For us, one of the things we're working on with other organizations is putting together a next-gen investor series, where we are teaching the next generation of investors how to invest and give them a platform to do it," Davies says.

Much like in a normal investment process, the companies provide a pitch deck for potential investors that outlines the business plan and scope of the company. The company simply creates an account and uses the website to develop those materials.

"We standardize that process, so from a user standpoint, everything looks fairly similar on our site and it's a pretty tried and true template," Carnrite says.

While LetsLaunch does its due diligence making sure the business is legitimate and makes sure the pitch deck is sufficient, the investors take it from there.

Since ease of access to funds is the top priority for LetsLaunch, the investment platform has a much lower fee for companies. While some crowdfunding platforms take 10 to 12 percent, LetsLaunch's fee is around 3 percent.

"We really want it to be simple and affordable to businesses and for investors as well," Davies says. "We maintain a much lower fee than other crowdfunding sites."

LetsLaunch will continue to fine tune its existing features on the site, while also adding more tools for businesses, including an iOS mobile app, which Carnirite says will be ready this year. In addition to fundraising tools, Carnrite wants to help their businesses after the campaigns with software that streamlines investor relations and reminds business owners of important deadlines.

"We want to evolve into a website that not only helps you raise capital for a company, but that also helps you run that company after your raise, Carnrite says."

While Houston is home base for the company, the team expects to expand to other markets where fundraising is hard, like Denver, Atlanta, Dallas, and more. Strategic partnerships are another opportunity for LetsLaunch, and the company expects to finalize some of those moving forward.

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Health tech startup launches Houston study improve stroke patients recovery

now enrolling

A Houston-born company is enrolling patients in a study to test the efficacy of nerve stimulation to improve outcomes for stroke survivors.

Dr. Kirt Gill and Joe Upchurch founded NeuraStasis in 2021 as part of the TMC Biodesign fellowship program.

“The idea for the company manifested during that year because both Joe and I had experiences with stroke survivors in our own lives,” Gill tells InnovationMap. It began for Gill when his former college roommate had a stroke in his twenties.

“It’s a very unpredictable, sudden disease with ramifications not just for my best friend but for everyone in his life. I saw what it did to his family and caregivers and it's one of those things that doesn't have as many solutions for people to continue recovery and to prevent damage and that's an area that I wanted to focus myself on in my career,” Gill explains.

Gill and Upchurch arrived at the trigeminal and vagus nerves as a potential key to helping stroke patients. Gill says that there is a growing amount of academic literature that talks about the efficacy of stimulating those nerves. The co-founders met Dr. Sean Savitz, the director of the UTHealth Institute for Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases, during their fellowship. He is now their principal investigator for their clinical feasibility study, located at his facility.

The treatment is targeted for patients who have suffered an ischemic stroke, meaning that it’s caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain.

“Rehabilitation after a stroke is intended to help the brain develop new networks to compensate for permanently damaged areas,” Gill says. “But the recovery process typically slows to essentially a standstill or plateau by three to six months after that stroke. The result is that the majority of stroke survivors, around 7.6 million in the US alone, live with a form of disability that prevents complete independence afterwards.”

NeuraStasis’ technology is intended to help patients who are past that window. They accomplish that with a non-invasive brain-stimulation device that targets the trigeminal and vagus nerves.

“Think of it kind of like a wearable headset that enables stimulation to be delivered, paired to survivors going through rehabilitation action. So the goal here is to help reinforce and rewire networks as they're performing specific tasks that they're looking to improve upon,” Gill explains.

The study, which hopes to enroll around 25 subjects, is intended to help people with residual arm and hand deficits six months or more after their ischemic stroke. The patients enrolled will receive nerve stimulation three times a week for six weeks. It’s in this window that Gill says he hopes to see meaningful improvement in patients’ upper extremity deficits.

Though NeuraStasis currently boasts just its two co-founders as full-time employees, the company is seeing healthy growth. It was selected for a $1.1 million award from the National Institutes of Health through its Blueprint MedTech program. The award was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The funding furthers NeuraStasis’ work for two years, and supports product development for work on acute stroke and for another product that will aid in emergency situations.

Gill says that he believes “Houston has been tailor-made for medical healthcare-focused innovation.”

NeuraStasis, he continues, has benefited greatly from its advisors and mentors from throughout the TMC, as well as the engineering talent from Rice, University of Houston and Texas A&M. And the entrepreneur says that he hopes that Houston will benefit as much from NeuraStasis’ technology as the company has from its hometown.

“I know that there are people within the community that could benefit from our device,” he says.

Texas Space Commission launches, Houston execs named to leadership

future of space

Governor Greg Abbott announced the Texas Space Commission, naming its inaugural board of directors and Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee.

The announcement came at NASA's Johnson Space Center, and the governor was joined by Speaker Dade Phelan, Representative Greg Bonnen, Representative Dennis Paul, NASA's Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche, and various aerospace industry leaders.

According to a news release, the Texas Space Commission will aim to strengthen commercial, civil, and military aerospace activity by promoting innovation in space exploration and commercial aerospace opportunities, which will include the integration of space, aeronautics, and aviation industries as part of the Texas economy.

The Commission will be governed by a nine-member board of directors. The board will also administer the legislatively created Space Exploration and Aeronautics Research Fund to provide grants to eligible entities.

“Texas is home to trailblazers and innovators, and we have a rich history of traversing the final frontier: space,” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick says in a news release. “Texas is and will continue to be the epicenter for the space industry across the globe, and I have total confidence that my appointees to the Texas Space Commission Board of Directors and the Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee will ensure the Texas space industry remains an international powerhouse for cutting-edge space innovation.”

TARSEC will independently identify research opportunities that will assist the state’s position in aeronautics research and development, astronautics, space commercialization, and space flight infrastructure. It also plans to fuel the integration of space, aeronautics, astronautics, and aviation industries into the Texas economy. TARSEC will be governed by an executive committee and will be composed of representatives of each higher education institution in the state.

“Since its very inception, NASA’s Johnson Space Center has been home to manned spaceflight, propelling Texas as the national leader in the U.S. space program,” Abbott says during the announcement. “It was at Rice University where President John F. Kennedy announced that the U.S. would put a man on the moon—not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

"Now, with the Texas Space Commission, our great state will have a group that is responsible for dreaming and achieving the next generation of human exploration in space," he continues. "Texas is the launchpad for Mars, innovating the technology that will colonize humanity’s first new planet. As we look into the future of space, one thing is clear: those who reach for the stars do so from the great state of Texas. I look forward to working with the Texas Space Commission, and I thank the Texas Legislature for partnering with industry and higher education institutions to secure the future of Texas' robust space industry."

The Houston-area board of directors appointees included:

  • Gwen Griffin, chief executive officer of the Griffin Communications Group
  • John Shannon, vice president of Exploration Systems at the Boeing Company
  • Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, co-founder and CEO of Venus Aerospace
  • Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin
  • Dr. Nancy Currie-Gregg, director of the Texas A&M Space Institute

Additionally, a few Houstonians were named to the TARSEC committee, including:

  • Stephanie Murphy, CEO and executive chairman of Aegis Aerospace
  • Matt Ondler, president and former chief technology officer at Axiom Space
  • Jack “2fish” Fischer, vice president of production and operations at Intuitive Machines
  • Brian Freedman, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and vice chairman of Wellby Financial
  • David Alexander, professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University

To see the full list of appointed board and committee members, along with their extended bios, click here.