If you feel like it's hard to find venture capitalists in Houston, you wouldn't be wrong, according to this Houston investor. Photo via Getty Images

As a venture capitalist and former startup founder living in Houston, I get asked a lot about the best way to find and connect with a venture capitalist in Houston. My usual advice is to start with a list, and reach out to everyone on that list. But no one has a comprehensive list. In fact, VCs are such a quiet bunch that I’ve yet to meet someone who personally knows everyone on this proverbial list.

So, I got together with a couple of VC friends of mine, and we put together our own Houston venture capitalist list.

There are, by our count, 11 active venture capital funds headquartered in Houston of any size and type, and outside of corporate venture capital and angel investors, there are 30 total venture capitalists running funds.

Houston has always been quite thin on the VC fund front. I’ve jokingly introduced myself for a while as “one of the 13 venture capitalists in Houston.”

Let’s put this scale in some brutal perspective. With 7.2 million people in the Greater Houston Metro Area, the odds of finding a partner level active venture capitalist in Houston is about 1 in 240,000, if you take a most expanded definition of venture capitalist that might come down to 1 in 100,000. We’re the fifth largest metropolitan area in the country with a tremendous economic engine; there is a ton of capital in Houston, but it’s residing in things like institutional fixed income and equities, real estate, wealth management, corporate, private equity, family office, energy and infrastructure Basically, mostly everywhere but in venture capital funds for tech startups.

By comparison, there are almost as many Fortune 500 CEOs in Houston — 24, by our count — as venture capitalists and fewer venture capitalists than Fortune 1000 CEOs, of which there are 43. That means running into a VC in the checkout line at HEB is about as rare as running into the CEO of CenterPoint, ConocoPhillips, or Academy. In fact, as there are 115 cities in the Greater Houston area, you are three times more likely to be a mayor in Greater Houston Area than a partner at an investor at a VC firm, and more likely to be a college or university president. While we’re at it, you’re 400 times more likely to be a lawyer, 250 times more likely to be a CPA, and over 650 times more likely to be a medical doctor.

Our 30 venture capitalists in the Greater Houston Area are spread across 20 firms and all major venture sectors and stages. Venture capitalist is defined for this list as a full time managing director or partner-level investment professional actively running a venture capital fund with limited partners, currently investing in new venture capital deals from their fund from seed to growth stage, and residing in the Greater Houston Metro area.

To get to 31 we added in a couple of people running venture set asides for PE funds, and a number who work from Houston for funds with no office here. We excluded CVCs, as the decision making is more corporate than individual and rarely includes the committed fund and carried interest structure that defines venture capital, and excluded professionals at angel networks, accelerators, and seed funds that provide investment, but don’t manage conventional venture capital funds, as well as PE funds that do the occasional venture deal. We might be able to triple the number if we include venture capitalists at any professional level, and add in those professionals at PE and angel and seed funds, and corporate venture capital teams who are actively investing. But we’ll get to those other sources of funding in the next list.

The 11 venture capital funds headquartered in Houston are: Mercury, Energy Transition Ventures (my fund), Montrose Lane (formerly called Cottonwood), Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, Artemis, New Climate Ventures, Fitz Gate Ventures, Curate Capital, Knightsgate Ventures, Amplo Ventures,and First Bight Ventures.

Another half a dozen firms have a partner level venture capital investor here, but are headquartered elsewhere: Energy Innovation Capital, Decarbonization Partners, 1984 Ventures, Altitude Ventures, Ascension Ventures, Moneta Ventures, and MKB & Co. Two others, CSL Ventures and SCF Partners, are local private equity funds with a venture capital partner in Houston and a dedicated allocation from a PE fund.

Culling these for partner or managing director level currently in Houston, in alphabetical order by first name, LinkedIn profile and all.

We may have missed a couple of VCs hiding in plain sight, as venture capital is a pretty dynamic business.

VCs are just rare. And yes, perhaps more rare in Houston than in California. Something less than 1 in 100 VCs in the country live in Houston. Across the US there are somewhere around 1,000 to 2,000 active venture capital firms, and maybe another 1,000 to 2,000 active US based CVCs — so, plus or minus maybe at most 4,000 to 5,000 currently active partner level venture capitalists in the country excluding CVC professionals (active VCs and VC funds are really hard to count).

Perhaps in the most stunning statistic, the 7,386 elected state legislators in the US today outnumber the total number of American venture capitalists. Luckily for startup founders, the venture capitalists are more likely to return your phone call.

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Neal Dikeman is a venture capitalist and seven-time startup co-founder investing out of Energy Transition Ventures. He’s currently hosting the Venture Capital for First Time Founders Series at the Ion, where ETV is headquartered.

Montrose Lane managing partners, Ryan Gurney (left) and Jeremy Arendt, have announced a rebrand and the closing of the new fund. Photos via montroselane.com

Houston venture group closes $64M fund and rebrands with new name

money moves

A Houston venture investment group has announced today that it has a new name to go along with the recent closing of its second fund.

Cottonwood Venture Partners, a Houston-based firm focused on funding startups with software solutions for the energy industry, has closed its $64 million Fund II and renamed itself Montrose Lane.

"Our mission is to uphold a creative and fast-moving approach to partnering with software companies that help make energy affordable, safe, and environmentally friendly," says Jeremy Arendt, managing partner, in a news release. "For several reasons, 'Montrose Lane' captures that vision for us."

The new name is effective immediately, and the leadership at the firm is remaining the same. Chicago-based Kirkland & Ellis LLP served as fund formation counsel to Montrose Lane.

Montrose Lane's second fund — which is double the size of its first — included both new and previous investors, as well as strategic corporations. Founded in 2017, the fund has raised about $100 million in commitments.

"We are humbled to have had such supportive partners behind us since we first set out to invest in technology companies changing the way the energy industry does business," says Ryan Gurney, managing partner, in the release. "The global pandemic has only accelerated the need to adopt digital solutions throughout the energy industry. We are excited to pursue the opportunity alongside our existing and new investors."

Last year, Montrose Lane led several Texas energy tech startups' funding round, including Austin-based HURVData Inc.'s $5 million series A round, Dallas-headquartered Trivie Inc.'s $5 million series A round, Houston-based Hitched.com's $5.5 million series A, and Houston-focused Ambyint's $15 million series B.

Cottonwood Venture Partners has announced its latest investment. Photo via huvrdata.com

Houston venture capital group leads Austin-based energy tech company's $5M series A

money moves

Houston-based Cottonwood Venture Partners has announced the closing of an Austin-based software solutions round that it led.

Founded in 2014, HUVRdata Inc. is a data analytics company focusing on the energy industry. The startup announced the closing of its $5 million series A round this week. According to a press release, the company will use these funds on product development to support its growing customer base.

"HUVR was built alongside our customers' operations teams — designed from the ground up to be simple to use, flexible to implement, and valuable from day one," says Bob Baughman, HUVR co-founder and CEO, in a news release. "We are the first to build an open platform where asset inspection data can be aggregated with valuable and configurable reporting and analytics. The vision was to have asset owners own their own asset data, and, more importantly, to use their data to make business decisions. The results are significant efficiency gains and millions of dollars in savings."

HUVR, the latest software company to join CVP's portfolio, gives industrial asset owners the tools to aggregate and analyze all aspects of complex asset inspection data — like the ability to visualize trends across drone fleets, site, and individual assets.

"The volume of industrial inspection data is growing exponentially," says Ryan Gurney, managing partner of CVP, in the release. "Operators are deploying new inspection tools to inspect a growing, and aging, asset base. The tools and processes of the past are simply unable to handle the data. The HUVR platform allows its customers to aggregate their vast amounts of inspection data – more importantly, HUVR is enabling its customers to gain insights from that data. We are delighted to partner with the HUVR team in the next chapter of their growth."

It's not the first time the Austin company has received funding from Houston. According to a release from HUVR in August 2015, the startup received $2 million in angel investment from Houston Angel Network, Houston-based Texas HALO fund, and Austin-based Central Texas Angel Network.

Ambyint, which has offices in Calgary and Houston, has secured funding from Houston venture capital firms. Getty Images

AI-powered oil and gas startup secures $15 million from Houston VC firms in its series B

Money moves

It's payday for Ambyint. The Canadian startup, which has an office in Houston, has closed its $15 million series B funding round with support from local investors.

Houston-based Cottonwood Venture Partners led the round, and Houston-based Mercury Fund also contributed — as did Ambyint's management team, according to a news release. The money will be used to grow both its Houston and Calgary, Alberta, offices and expand its suite of software solutions for wells and artificial lift systems.

"This funding round is an important milestone for Ambyint, and we're pleased to benefit from unwavering support among our investors to boost Ambyint to its next phase of growth," says Alex Robart, CEO of Ambyint, in the news release. "It is also a proof point for our approach of combining advanced physics and artificial intelligence, deployed on a scalable software infrastructure, to deliver 10 to 20 percent margin gains in a market where meaningful improvements have been hard to achieve."

Ambyint's technology pairs artificial intelligence with advanced physics and subject matter expertise to automate processes on across all well types and artificial lift systems.

Photo via ambyint.com

"Our physics-grounded approach to AI is the difference maker and explains our strong growth in the market as well as our expanding list of marquee customers," says Ryan Benoit, chief technology officer of Ambyint in the release.

The company has mid- to large-sized operators, including Norway-based Equinor and Calgary-based Husky among their customers. According to the release, Ambyint has deployed solutions in every major North American basin.

"Improving margin on producing wells is more important than ever for operators," says Ryan Gurney, managing partner at Cottonwood Venture Partners, in the release. "Ambyint has delivered significant financial benefits for its customers with the application of advanced physics and artificial intelligence, over and above traditional approaches to production optimization. We're excited to see them expand further in the market with solutions that span the entire lifecycle of the well."

According to Ambyint's website, the software promises the ability to increase production levels by 5 percent and lower operating costs by 10 percent.

"Producers flourish — even in a down market — when they understand how exploiting their data effectively can increase productivity and reduce costs," says Adrian Fortino, managing director at Mercury Fund, in the release. "Ambyint turns data into higher yield, more efficient oil and gas production with proven optimization technologies. We're excited to continue our partnership with such a great company and investor syndicate."

Houston-based Hitched has dug up new investment money from a local private equity firm. Pexels

Houston-based digital marketplace for industrial equipment raises $5.5 million series A

money moves

A Houston startup that acts as a digital marketplace for industrial equipment in the oil and gas and construction industries closed a sizeable series A financing round this month.

Hitched Inc. raised $5.5 million in its series A funding led by Houston-based Cottonwood Venture Partners, a growth equity firm that focuses on digital tech solutions in the energy industry.

"It is encouraging to see the support and excitement from CVP," Hitched's Founder and CEO Adam Gilles says in a press release. "With this Series A funding, we plan to continue to shake things up in the oil & gas, construction, and industrial industries."

The company, which was founded in 2018, coordinates the rentals — from hosting and chartering to managing them — all on one centralized platform. Hitched has a catalogue of equipment from generators and cranes to light towers, pumps to forklifts, and the site lists out the cost per day of each piece of machinery.

According to the release, Hitched will use the fresh funds to advance its product development and customer experience as it continues "to reinvent the industrial rental marketplace."

"We're delighted to partner with the Hitched team. The industrial rental segment is incredibly opaque and riddled with inefficiencies," says Ryan Gurney, managing partner of CVP, in the news release. "The Hitched platform provides both a transparent marketplace and an important management tool that allows both the renter and rentee to optimize rental inventory."

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$1M donation to Rice establishes pioneering neuro-policy center in Houston

brainy support

A big donation to Rice University will soon help researchers better understand the workings of the human brain.

Harry Yan and Weiman Gao have bestowed $1 million on the Baker Institute of Public Policy to establish the interdisciplinary Neuro-Policy Program.

Neuro-policy is a newer field that explores how brain health and function can help to fuel economic growth.

“The Neuro-Policy Program is at the forefront of pioneering data analysis, empirical research and policy application,” says Harris Eyre, the lead for the program, as well as a senior fellow in brain health at the Baker Institute, in a news release. “Investing in evidence-based strategies for prevention, diagnosis and treatment can reduce brain and mental health disparities, optimize cognitive development and performance and foster innovation to build more resilient communities.”

Eyre describes the collective value of the human brain as “brain capital.” That’s because brains that are suffering from any number of neurodegenerative or mental health disorders (including depression, anxiety, brain injury and Alzheimer’s disease) have actually taken a toll on the U.S. economy, Eyre explains.

The Neuro-Policy Program seeks to improve brain performance, and consequently enhance economic growth, national security, and our overall standing as a nation of healthy brains. The program’s primary projects include establishing a task force to advise Texas “brain and mind” legislative efforts as well as a Texas Brain Capital Dashboard, collaborating on Texas Forward (Texas Brain Health Plan) with the UT Dallas Center for BrainHealth, thereby working toward U.S. brain capital policy and investment advances. These projects are expected to yield deliverables as early as 2026.

“The Neuro-Policy Program aims to leverage the university’s proximity to the Texas Medical Center and the institute’s strong connections to state and federal policymakers. This is an important yet underrepresented area of research that Houston is poised to lead,” says David Satterfield, the director of the Baker Institute.

Yan and Gao said in a press release that they were inspired to gift the grant funds to Eyre and his research after attending a March 28 Baker Institute event on brain health that featured U.S. Rep. Morgan Luttrell, a co-chair of the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus.

"We are honored to support Dr. Harris Eyre and the Neuro-Policy program he leads. Dr. Eyre’s work has greatly impressed us, highlighting the critical importance of brain health in our society today,” say Yan and Gao. “We hope our contribution can inspire further support and advocacy in the field, helping individuals lead healthier lives through a comprehensive approach to prevention.”

Houston HR software startup rolls out platform at local hospital system

tapping into tech

More than 14,000 nurses at one of the largest nonprofit health care providers in Texas have access to a new skills and competency management software.

Kahuna Workforce Solutions has officially deployed its platform at Memorial Hermann Health System, consisting of 17 hospitals and more than 250 care delivery sites. The platform will streamline onboarding processes and increase transparency and accessibility for staff.

“Kahuna will enhance our clinical competency experience and fully aligns with our nursing strategy to optimize our processes, prioritize innovation and safety, and excel as a top provider of care and clinical advancement for clinicians,” Bryan Sisk, senior vice president and chief nursing executive for Memorial Hermann, says in a news release.

“Memorial Hermann is committed to the Houston community and helping to develop the next generation of nurses,” Sisk continues. “The Kahuna platform will help improve the transparency, autonomy and efficiency of our competency management and development processes for our nurses to better support them in their roles, while also ensuring we provide high-quality care for our patients.”

The rollout comes six months after the software-as-a-service company raised a $21 million series B round of funding.

“We are thrilled to work with Memorial Hermann as they enrich all aspects of their clinical competency management practices with Kahuna’s skills management software,” adds Jai Shah, CEO of Kahuna Workforce Solutions. “This collaboration unites two Houston-based organizations and demonstrates a joint commitment to enhancing the standard of health care through digitized competency management in our Houston community and far beyond.”