Jay Steinfeld (left) looks back at his successful Blinds.com exit, and Omair Tariq shares how Cart.com is growing. Photos courtesy

When Blinds.com was acquired by Home Depot in 2014, it was a big moment for Houston's nascent tech and innovation ecosystem. However, Jay Steinfeld will be the first to tell you he did not expect to go through a major exit when he founded what he describes as a marketing experiment for his interior design store.

"I heard about something called 'the World Wide Web,' and I thought for $1,500, I'll create a website," Steinfeld says. "I wanted to see what it was and if I could attract people to my store. Next year, Amazon started selling books, and in 1996, I thought I'd see if I could sell this stuff."

However initially unintentional, Steinfeld created a profitable business and very intentionally grew his team with the addition of entrepreneurial-minded individuals, which included Omair Tariq. Tariq is now the founder and CEO, Cart.com, an ecommerce company that's raised $380 million in funding and is providing a suite of software services for merchants. The two sat down to discuss their entrepreneurial journeys with Scott Gale of Halliburton Labs at a Houston Tech Rodeo fireside chat.

Both entrepreneurs credit business success on creating an unparalleled employee culture that fostered a positive workplace environment that reduces turnover.

"We were very deliberate at making people knew that they were important and consequential," says Steinfeld, who recently wrote a book about creating a core culture. "We were doing consequential things by helping people become consequential. ... It really comes down to being respectful to people."

Tariq says setting up Cart.com's culture was a task he dedicated a significant amount of time to. Cart.com grew from 0 to 1,000 employees in just 14 months, so maintaining that culture at that rate of scaling was going to be difficult without the right structure in place. Tariq and his team created six core values, and decisions get put through the lens of these values.

"Building a culture — while you have to be intentional and deliberate about it — the reality is it just happens, if you get the framework right," Tariq says.

And it's not just about putting your core values in the employee handbook or on a wall in the office, but actually celebrating employees who are excelling at the execution of the values. Tariq gives the example of Cart.com's slack channel dedicated to this type of shoutouts.

In terms of hiring at such a quick pace, Tariq explains his mentality when it comes to making sure employees are a fit for the company.

"You've got to be coherent in the way you execute," Tariq says, adding that a lack of coherency leads to major mistakes in a nearly $400 million-backed tech company. "We have a very intentional policy — hire fast, fire faster, promote fastest."

Another ingredient in a successful business is developing a brand. Tariq says this is something that's more crucial than ever — especially for Cart.com, which is competing with the likes of Amazon.

"In today's world, the importance of brand is exponentially more than it was in the pre-Amazon world," Tariq says, explaining that a brand can include exceptional customer service or a best-in-class product.

Cart.com's brand and culture were intentional from inception, but the actual business plan pivoted, Tariq shares with the audience. Originally envisioned as a marketplace, Cart.com's first acquisition was a cardboard box company, which in retrospect Tariq says wasn't the best move. But, the business accounted for the majority of Cart.com's revenue, which showed promise to potential investors, he says. The business did evolve to what it is now — merchant enablement technology — but that didn't happen overnight and came with time.

"You rarely know how to get to C, until you get to B," Tariq says. "If you spend all your energy trying to figure out how to get to C, you're never going to get to B. Sometimes you have to make really dumb moves or mistakes and just pivot and iterate and improve."

The latter half of the discussion included a question from Gale about the role the city of Houston played on business success. For Steinfeld, he says the lack of competition allowed him to attract the best team members.

"While all the investors outside of Houston said, 'you can't run a tech company out of Houston — there's no talent,'" Steinfeld says. "Any talent there was came to us. We weren't competing with Facebook or any other companies."

He continues saying he wishes there were more venture funding and activity coming into Houston, but the people in town are so entrepreneurial, that he says it's confusing how the city's innovation ecosystem hasn't taken off more than it already has.

Tariq has a different perspective of hiring out of Houston. While he says he loves Houston and has no plans to relocate himself or his family, being headquartered in Houston was difficult and the city's lack of appeal in terms of recruiting is what led to him moving his HQ to Austin.

"It's an amazing city with the most amount of diversity I've seen than anywhere in the country. Every third person is a minority or an immigrant, and that is valuable. It brings different perspectives and allows you to get people with different ideas to contribute," Tariq says, adding that the cost of living, tax incentives, academic institutions, capital, are all huge appeals.

"Why is there not more innovation happening here?" Tariq asks. "The things we struggled with at Cart.com is people didn't have the right perception of Houston. What I mean that is people never think of Houston (as a really cool place to move to). It sounds really shallow, but there are little things that I think other cities do better than us that create a good perception of a city is what we need."

Regardless of HQ location, Tariq says Cart.com is a remote-first business and is continuing to grow its team with plans to IPO within the next year.

Cart.com, a Houston-founded unicorn ecommerce company, has closed its latest round of funding. Photo via cart.com

Houston-founded unicorn closes $240M round of funding led by Dallas firm

fresh funding

Cart.com, which moved its headquarters from Houston to Austin in December but still maintains a local presence, just landed $240 million in equity and debt funding.

Legacy Knight Capital Partners, the equity investment arm of the Legacy Knight Multifamily Office, led the equity round, with participation from Citi Ventures, Visa, and other Fortune 100 companies. J.P. Morgan and TriplePoint Capital provided the debt financing. Since being founded in 2020, Cart.com has secured $380 million in funding.

“What [CEO Omair Tariq] and the team at Cart.com have accomplished in the last 14 months is nothing short of remarkable. They have proven they have the ability to rapidly execute on their vision of building the first fully end-to-end e-commerce platform at massive scale,” David Sawyer, chief operating officer and managing partner of Legacy Knight, says in a news release.

Legacy Knight has offices in Houston and Dallas. On its website, Legacy Knight Capital Partners says it makes direct investments of $10 million to $50 million in growth-stage companies and real estate projects.

“With this new funding,” Tariq says, “we’re poised to continue our strategy of acquiring top providers from across the e-commerce value chain, while staying hyper-focused on meeting the evolving needs of the brands we serve.”

Cart.com recently acquired Dallas-based FB Flurry, a provider of technology for fulfillment and customer care, and SellerActive, a Tigard, Oregon-based provider of multichannel e-commerce software.

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

“The Cart.com team is building a platform that can help sellers of all sizes grow faster as the future of commerce becomes increasingly digital,” says Rubail Birwadker, senior vice president of global digital partnerships at Visa.

Cart.com supplies a variety of software and services for more than 2,000 online merchants.

Last year, the startup decided to relocate its headquarters to Austin, citing the city’s rise as an alternative to Silicon Valley and as “the country’s most exciting and fertile space for high-tech innovation.”

Furthermore, Cart.com said the relocation would help the startup by being in the same business ecosystem as Austin-based companies such as Whole Foods, YETI, Kendra Scott, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Bumble, and Tecovas.

Cart.com’s move coincided with the startup being named Startup of the Year by Capital Factory, an Austin-based startup accelerator that has offices in Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. Capital Factory is an investor in Cart.com.

Cart.com employs more than 850 people.

Cart.com's Houston-based execs will stay based in the Bayou City. Photo via cart.com

Growing Houston startup moves HQ to Austin

relocating

Houston has lost the headquarters of Cart.com, an e-commerce startup that launched last year and already is poised to go public, to Austin.

The company announced December 9 that it relocated its headquarters to downtown Austin, where it already employs 150 people and plans to hire at least another 150 people within the next 12 months. Cart.com supplies an array of software and services for more than 2,000 online merchants.

Moving the headquarters out of Houston represents something of a change in mindset. During an October interview with InnovationMap’s Houston Innovators Podcast, chief of staff at Cart.com, Remington Tonar, affirmed the startup’s dedication to Houston.

“While many of our founding execs will remain in Houston,” Tonar wrote December 9 on LinkedIn, “our Austin office has become a magnet for top talent and is already home to hundreds of Cart.com employees.”

Aside from Houston and Austin, Cart.com has offices in Dallas, Beaumont, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. It plans to open locations next month in the Netherlands and Poland.

Over the past 12 months, Cart.com has raised $143 million in venture capital, purchased nine companies, opened nine fulfillment centers, and built a workforce of close to 400 people. The company plans to grow its total headcount to about 1,000 by the first quarter of 2022.

“With more and more Silicon Valley tech companies relocating to Texas, and Elon Musk moving Tesla’s HQ to Austin, the ‘Silicon Hills’ area is increasingly seen as the country’s most exciting and fertile space for high-tech innovation,” Cart.com says in a news release.

The move coincides with Cart.com being named Startup of the Year by Capital Factory, an Austin-based startup accelerator that has offices in Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. Capital Factory is an investor in Cart.com.

By relocating to Austin, Cart.com says it can benefit from being in the same business ecosystem as Austin-based companies like Whole Foods, YETI, Kendra Scott, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Bumble, and Tecovas.

“We’ll forever call Houston our home, but I’m beyond excited to be opening Cart.com’s corporate headquarters in Austin — not only the country’s top tech town, but also the home to so many of the iconic brands we love,” said Omair Tariq, co-founder and CEO of Cart.com. “Today, the world’s best and brightest engineers, coders, creatives, and tech leaders are flocking to Texas — and Cart.com is part of the reason why. There’s no better place than Austin for a brand-obsessed company like Cart.com to plant its flag as we reimagine e-commerce and drive growth for today’s top merchants.”

For Cart.com, which was founded in September 2020, this has been a whirlwind year. For example:

  • In November, the company hired Frank Parker as chief financial officer. Parker will lead Cart.com’s effort to launch an IPO in the next two years. He had been executive vice president of finance at New Jersey-based Managed Health Care Associates, a provider of health care services and technology.
  • In September, the company tapped sales veteran Randy Ray as chief revenue officer. He was senior vice president of High Jump, a provider of supply chain management software.
  • In August, Cart.com raised $98 million in a Series B round.
  • In May, the company brought aboard Michael Svatek as the company’s first chief product officer. He previously was chief product and strategy officer at Austin-based Bazaarvoice, a provider of social data about shopping behavior.
  • In April, it wrapped up a Series A round of $25 million, preceded by a seed round of $20 million.

Before co-founding Cart.com, Tariq spent about 10 years as an executive — including chief financial officer — at Houston-based Blinds.com, a retailer of window coverings. The Home Depot acquired Blinds.com in 2014. Tariq has been a mentor at Capital Factory since 2019 and an adviser at the Station Houston tech hub since 2018.

“We started Cart.com to put e-commerce brands in charge of their operations,” Tariq said in November, “and to give founders control over every aspect of their business.”
Here's the latest news from Cart.com. Photo via cart.com

Houston e-commerce startup makes C-suite appointment and acquisition

growth mode

In the past week, Houston-based Cart.com has made some big moves on its tech startup journey — including another strategic acquisition and new hire.

The end-to-end e-commerce-as-a-service provider, which recently raised a $98 million series B round of funding, announced Tony Puccetti as the company's new chief delivery officer following the acquisition of 180Commerce, a leading online sales partner.

Puccetti, who joins Cart.com from digital consultancy Blue Acorn, will manage all client deliverables for the company. Puccetti also previously served as general manager and senior vice president over e-commerce, strategym sales, and more at Onestop Internet.

"I've spent my career championing fast-growing brands in the retail space, so I recognized instantly that Cart.com's ability to deliver seamless end-to-end e-commerce support and services was a true gamechanger," Puccetti says in a news release. "I'm thrilled to be joining the team, and I'm looking forward to helping deliver the services and technologies that brands need to grow their business and realize their full potential in today's omnichannel world.

Cart.com hired Tony Puccetti as the company's new chief delivery officer. Photo via LinkedIn

Omair Tariq, Cart.com CEO, says Puccetti has the talent and experience the company's clients need.

"Cart.com has built a reputation for making big, bold promises — then delivering on them, and exceeding our customers' expectations as they scale their e-commerce brands," continues Tariq in the release. "We're delighted to be welcoming Tony to the Cart.com family, and we're looking forward to working with him to transform the tech-enabled commerce space for merchants of all sizes."

The news of Puccetti's appointment follows news of California-based 180Commerce's acquisition by Cart.com. The company was founded in 2016 following DSW's acquisition of Shoe Metro, the largest Amazon footwear reseller. According to the news release, leaders from Shoe Metro formed 180Commerce "to bring their expertise directly to brands through a tech-enabled agency service model." The company provides its clients with data-driven and tech-enabled retail strategies, tools, and resources.

"The 180Commerce value proposition has always focused on helping consumer brands grow long-term revenue and profitability by optimizing and streamlining their marketplace strategies. By joining with Cart.com, we're bringing that vision to a far wider audience while continuing to expand our offering to the brands we serve with the powerhouse of offerings Cart.com provides," says Jason Stuempfig, founder of 180Commerce. "We share Cart.com's vision for a no-hassle, fully integrated e-commerce ecosystem, and I'm delighted to be starting this new chapter in the 180Commerce story."

The acquisition means a merging of clients, services, and staff between the two companies. 180Commerce's full team will be onboarded to Cart.com under Stuempfig's leadership.

"We're thrilled to welcome the 180Commerce team into the Cart.com family as we continue to expand our offering of commerce everywhere," Tariq says in the release. "Jason turned 180Commerce into a success story by being relentlessly focused on delivering results for brands, while creating a powerful company culture in which everyone is valued. That's exactly the combination we look for at Cart.com — especially when it's paired with a commitment to using data and technology to streamline and optimize e-commerce and marketplace functions for fast-growing brands in every corner of the world."

This acquisition is the latest in a series for Cart.com. Previously, the company has acquired AmeriCommerce, Spacecraft Brands, DuMont Project, and Sauceda Industries.

"Acquisitions are central to Cart.com's growth strategy, and with the addition of 180Commerce we're underscoring our commitment to expanding into new areas and building out best-in-class capabilities across the full spectrum of e-commerce sales channels such as marketplaces," says Saheb Sabharwal, chief strategy officer at Cart.com, who leads all M&A activity, in the release. "We're looking forward to working with Jason and the 180Commerce team to drive new value for Cart.com's thousands of loyal users. We have a great process in place to integrate new companies into the Cart.com ecosystem, and we're actively seeking additional M&A opportunities as we augment our solutions for brands."

Remington Tonar, chief commercial officer and co-founder at Cart.com, also recently told InnovationMap of the company's plans on a recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Heading into the holidays, where potential new clients will be focusing on delivering on orders and sales, Tonar says Cart.com is expecting a busy 2022 in terms of growth. In a lot of ways, the COVID-19 pandemic played a major role in the development of e-commerce and, by extension, Cart.com.

"The pandemic has played a role in overall accelerating the growth of e-commerce as a category and an industry. That growth was going to happen anyways, but it made it more ubiquitous faster," Tonar says. "It's just commerce now. This is just how people purchase and consume things."

Stream the full podcast below.

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

Roundup: Houston startups announce new partnerships, crowdfunding campaigns, and more

Short stories

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.

Here's some local Houston startup news you may have missed. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

Houston startups raise funds, enter into new partnerships, and more local innovation news

short stories

Houston startups across industries have been moving and shaking these past few weeks, and there's a chance you may have missed some of these Houston innovation stories.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, two Houston-based e-commerce startups announce big news, a tech company pitches abroad, and more.

Houston industrial e-commerce startup expands into the construction industry

Houston-based GoExpedi has expanded its business. Photo by Colt Melrose for GoExpedi

GoExpedi, an end-to-end digital supply chain and data analytics company with solutions within procurement and delivery of maintenance, repair, and operations products for heavy industries, announced it has expanded into the commercial construction space.

Builders partnering with GoExpedi now have access to more than 200,000 critical parts and supplies, according to a news release from the company.

"Access to needed tools and materials in construction is already a challenge in today's supply chain environment," says GoExpedi CEO Tim Neal in the release. "Expanding into commercial construction is a natural extension of our capabilities as we already provide significant operational and cost value with our digital platform across similar heavy sectors. We're quickly ramping up the number of construction groups we're working with, giving them a better way to plan for and order materials to help avoid costly building delays."

GoExpedi raised a $25 million series C round in 2020 and is deploying these funds as the company grows. Earlier this year, the startup opened a new industrial and energy MRO warehouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

UH business college snags prestigious grant

Dean​ Paul Pavlou leads the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business.

The University of Houston's C. T. Bauer College of Business is partnering with Texas A&M University and Temple University to develop and implement an energy risk tracking and alert system in Houston and San Antonio. The research project recently received $1.5 million in grant funding from the National Science Foundation. The grant is part of the Smart and Connected Communities program.

"Advanced Learning for Energy Risk Tracking" (ALERT) is designed to prevent and mitigate costly and potentially devastating electricity outages — such as the 2021 winter storm — according to a news release from UH. Bauer College Dean and Cullen Distinguished Chair Professor Paul A. Pavlou is one of co-investigators.

"If there is one positive outcome of the winter storm, it certainly created an awareness for many people that we need to invest more in intelligent systems that can minimize the huge costs and negative impacts that electricity outages can have on people and local communities," he says in the release. "The idea of this research is to create a data-driven system to reduce, predict, and mitigate costly power outages, especially in traditionally disadvantaged communities that usually suffer the most from power outages."

The ALERT system depends on data generated by utilities, city and county governments, school districts and others, enabling preemptive repairs and allowing officials to react more quickly in the event of unforeseen outages, per the release, and a test version of the resource may begin operating in San Antonio as soon as 2022, followed by a trial in Houston.

"It's a technologically very advanced solution, but the beauty of it is that we are working with local communities to acquire the data, to enhance the system and also feed the data back to the community to actually minimize the impact on the people who suffer most from power outages," Pavlou says in the release.

Houston health tech company receives new investment

Dan Purvis, CEO of Velentium

A Houston company has fresh funding. Photo courtesy of Velentium

Velentium has announced a growth recapitalization in partnership with Connecticut-based Great Point Partners. Houston-based Velentium is an engineering firm specializing in the design and manufacturing of therapeutic and diagnostic active medical devices, and GPP is a leading health care investment firm. The new investment allows Velentium to scale national operations.

"When Great Point reached out to us earlier this year, we were immediately impressed with their deep knowledge of our market and track record building businesses," says Dan Purvis, CEO of Velentium, in a news release. "We continue to build an organization that improves the lives of people and families by helping to bring transformative medical devices to market, and Great Point is uniquely positioned to enable us to do that at an even larger scale. Today, we are starting a new chapter and taking a crucial step in realizing our dream of having 1,000 families as part of our organization."

Velentium was created to advance the next breakthrough medical device technology — all within the same company. Innovators and inventors don't have to go through the processes — from cybersecurity to manufacturing — by themselves.

"Our dream from day one was to create a one-stop shop here in Houston where new startups with IP can come to us and know that start to finish they would have their commercial device ready for approval with the FDA and that we were going to handle everything," Purvis previously told InnovationMap.

With GPP's investment, Velentium is equipped to augment its end-to-end solutions and its nearshore and offshore manufacturing capabilities, per the release.

"Velentium has played a pivotal role in the development of groundbreaking neuromodulation devices that have led to important medical technology advancements," says GPP Managing Director Adam Dolder in the release. "We look forward to being partners with Dan, Tim and the entire team and helping them to achieve their goals for the company."

Houston startup tapped for European pitch competition

Jessica Reitmeier, is the co-founder of Pandata Tech. Photo courtesy of Pandata Tech

Houston-based Pandata Tech is one of 29 companies from around the globe competing in Scotland's Net Zero Technology Centre's Clean Energy Start-up Pitch Battle finals. Each featured company has a technology solution that can help accelerate the transition to a net zero energy industry, and 10 finalists will be selected to pitch at COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on November 2, 2021.

"These start-ups are truly inspiring. Offering extraordinary innovation and ambition, all these teams are developing technologies that have significant potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," says Mark Anderson, TechX Director of Net Zero Technology Centre.

The Ion Houston nominated Pandata Tech to be part of the competition because of the startup's previous work in offshore energy and geothermal utility distribution.

"When we think about reducing C02 emissions by 50 percent or more by 2030 and the data required to meet that mark, it's simple — humans and algorithms need data they can trust," says Jessica Reitmeier, co-founder of Pandata.

Houston e-commerce services provider announces strategic partnership

Houston-based e-commerce software startup and Amazon competitor raises $25M in its series A

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, announced a strategic partnership with Clearco, the world's largest ecommerce investor. With the new partnership, Cart.com's clients will receive access to Clearco's capital financing and Clearco's portfolio of over 5,500 companies will have access to Cart.com's end-to-end e-commerce platform.

"We're committed to making all aspects of running an ecommerce business streamlined and hassle-free — and that includes getting access to the capital needed to fuel growth," says Omair Tariq, Cart.com CEO, in a news release. "Through this partnership we're giving online sellers frictionless access to the resources they need to scale up, while allowing founders to stay laser-focused on serving their customers and building their brand."

The two companies share the mission to democratize ecommerce by delivering easier, more streamlined access to critical resources — including capital, services, and domain-specific information — which have previously only been available to companies like Amazon.

"Like Cart.com, we envision a world where founding a business is accessible to everyone, and where founders can access essential capital without having to jump through endless hoops," says Andrew D'Souza, Clearco CEO, in the release. "By partnering with Cart.com, Clearco companies will be able to access the platform's end-to-end ecommerce engine — including online store technology, integrated fulfillment services, and customer service support — to scale their ecommerce growth."

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Houston company premieres new platform for gig economy workforce

tech support

As the independent workforce continues to grow, a Houston-based company is aiming to connect these workers with companies that match their specific needs with a new digital platform.

FlexTek, a 14-year old recruiting and staffing company, launched a first gig site tailored to the needs of the individual worker. The platform, Workz360, is built to be able to manage projects, maintain quality control, and manage billing and year-end financial reporting.The company is also working to expanding the platform to provide infrastructure to assist independent workers with education, access to savings programs, tax compliance through vetted third-party CPA firms, and hopes in the future to assist with access to liability and medical insurance.

With a younger workforce and a shifting economy, the “gig economy,” which is another way to describe how people can earn a living as a 1099 worker, offers an alternative option to the corporate grind in a post-pandemic workscape. Chief Marketing Officer Bill Penczak of Workz360 calls this era “Gig 2.0,” and attributes the success of this type of workforce to how during the COVID-19 pandemic people learned how to work, and thrive in non-traditional work environments. The site also boasts the fact it won’t take a bite out of the worker’s pay, which could be an attractive sell for many since other sites can take up to 65 percent of profit.

“In the past few years, with the advent of gig job platforms, the Independent workers have been squeezed by gig work platforms taking a disproportionate amount of the workers’ income,” said FlexTek CEO and founder Stephen Morel in a news release. “As a result, there has been what we refer to as ‘pay padding,’ a phenomenon in which workers are raising their hourly or project rates to compensate for the bite taken by other platforms.

"Workz360 is designed to promote greater transparency, and we believe the net result will be for workers to thrive and companies to save money by using the platform,” he continues.

As the workforce has continued to change over the years, a third of the current U.S. workforce are independent workers according to FlexTek, workers have gained the ability to have more freedom where and how they work. Workz360 aims to cater to this workforce by believing in a simple mantra of treating your workers well.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about this, but we like the Southwest Airlines model,” Penczak tells InnovationMap. “Southwest Airlines treats their people very well, and as a result those employees treat the passengers really well. We believe the same thing holds true. If we can provide resources, and transparency, and not take a bite out of what the gig worker is charging, then we will get the best and the brightest people since they feel like they won’t be taken advantage of. We think there is an opportunity to be a little different and put the people first.”

NASA launches new research projects toward astronauts on ISS

ready to research

For the 26th time, SpaceX has sent up supplies to the International Space Station, facilitating several new research projects that will bring valuable information to the future of space.

On Saturday at 1:20 pm, the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched on the Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida — bringing with it more than 7,700 pounds of science experiments, crew supplies, and other cargo. The anticipated docking time is Sunday morning, and the cargo spacecraft will remain aboard the ISS for 45 days, according to a news release from NASA.

Among the supplies delivered to the seven international astronauts residing on the ISS are six research experiments — from health tech to vegetation. Here's a glimpse of the new projects sent up to the scientists in orbit:

Moon Microscope

Image via NASA.gov

Seeing as astronauts are 254 miles away from a hospital on Earth — and astronauts on the moon would be almost 1,000 times further — the need for health technology in space is top of mind for researchers. One new device, the Moon Microscope, has just been sent up to provide in-flight medical diagnosis. The device includes a portable hand-held microscope and a small self-contained blood sample staining tool, which can communicate information to Earth for diagnosis.

"The kit could provide diagnostic capabilities for crew members in space or on the surface of the Moon or Mars," reads a news release. "The hardware also may provide a variety of other capabilities, such as testing water, food, and surfaces for contamination and imaging lunar surface samples."

Fresh produce production

Salads simply aren't on the ISS menu, but fresh technology might be changing that. Researchers have been testing a plant growth unit on station known as Veggie, which has successfully grown a variety of leafy greens, and the latest addition is Veg-05 — focused on growing dwarf tomatoes.

Expanded solar panels

Thanks to SpaceX's 22nd commercial resupply mission in 2021, the ISS installed Roll-Out Solar Arrays. Headed to the ISS is the second of three packages to complete the panels that will increase power for the station by 20 to 30 percent. This technology was first tested in space in 2017 and is a key ingredient in future ISS and lunar development.

Construction innovation

Image via NASA.gov

Due to the difference of gravity — and lack thereof — astronauts have had to rethink constructing structures in space. Through a process called extrusion, liquid resin is used to create shapes and forms that cannot be created on Earth. Photocurable resin, which uses light to harden the material into its final form, is injected into pre-made flexible forms and a camera captures footage of the process, per the news release.

"The capability for using these forms could enable in-space construction of structures such as space stations, solar arrays, and equipment," reads the release. "The experiment is packed inside a Nanoracks Black Box with several other experiments from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab and is sponsored by the ISS National Lab."

Transition goggles

It's a bizarre transition to go from one gravity field to another — and one that can affect spatial orientation, head-eye and hand-eye coordination, balance, and locomotion, and cause some crew members to experience space motion sickness, according to the release.

"The Falcon Goggles hardware captures high-speed video of a subject’s eyes, providing precise data on ocular alignment and balance," reads the release.

On-demand nutrients

Image via NASA.gov

NASA is already thinking about long-term space missions, and vitamins, nutrients, and pharmaceuticals have limited shelf-life. The latest installment in the five-year BioNutrients program is BioNutrients-2 , which tests a system for producing key nutrients from yogurt, a fermented milk product known as kefir, and a yeast-based beverage, per the release.

"The researchers also are working to find efficient ways to use local resources to make bulk products such as plastics, construction binders, and feedstock chemicals. Such technologies are designed to reduce launch costs and increase self-sufficiency, extending the horizons of human exploration," reads the release.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from esports to biomaterials — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Zimri Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO

Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he's planning to scale his biomaterials startup to reduce plastic waste. Photo courtesy of BUCHA BIO

After raising a seed round of funding, BUCHA BIO is gearing up to move into its new facility. The biomaterials company was founded in New York City in 2020, but CEO Zimri T. Hinshaw shares how he started looking for a new headquarters for the company — one that was more affordable, had a solid talent pool, and offered a better quality of life for employees. He narrowed it down from over 20 cities to two — San Diego and Houston — before ultimately deciding on the Bayou City.

Since officially relocating, Hinshaw says he's fully committed to the city's innovation ecosystem. BUCHA BIO has a presence at the University of Houston, Greentown Labs, and the East End Maker Hub — where the startup is building out a new space to fit the growing team.

"By the end of this month, our laboratories will be up and running, we'll have office space adjacent, as well as chemical storage," Hinshaw says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Listen to the episode and read more.

Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston

A nonprofit organization has rolled out an esports platform and event to raise awareness and funding for those with disabilities. Photo via Easter Seals

For many video games is getaway from reality, but for those with disabilities — thanks to a nonprofit organization —gaming can mean a lot more. On Saturday Dec. 3 — International Day of Persons with Disabilities — from 1 to 9 pm, Easter Seals Greater Houston will be joining forces with ES Gaming for the inaugural Game4Access Streamathon.

Gaming helps enhance cognitive skills, motor skills, improve mental well-being, and can help reduce feelings of social isolation due to the interactive nature of playing with others.

“This is really a unique way for (people) to form a community without having to leave their house, and being part of an inclusive environment,” says Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston. ”The adaptive equipment and specialized technology just does so many miraculous things for people with disabilities on so many levels — not just gaming. With gaming, it is an entrance into a whole new world.” Read more.

John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines

Levit Green has announced its latest to-be tenant. Photo courtesy

Levit Green, a 53-acre mixed-use life science district next to the Texas Medical Center and expected to deliver this year, has leased approximately 10,000 square feet of commercial lab and office space to Sino Biological Inc. The Bejing-based company is an international reagent supplier and service provider. Houston-based real estate investor, development, and property manager Hines announced the new lease in partnership with 2ML Real Estate Interests and Harrison Street.

“Levit Green was meticulously designed to provide best-in-class life science space that can accommodate a multitude of uses. Welcoming Sino Biological is a testament to the market need for sophisticated, flexible space that allows diversified firms to perform a variety of research,” says John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines, in a press release. “Sino is an excellent addition to the district’s growing life science ecosystem, and we look forward to supporting their continued growth and success.” Read more.Read more.