Topl's latest fundraising round includes participation from a Houston investor as well as international partners. Image via Getty Images

A blockchain technology company that was founded out of Rice University has closed its latest round of funding.

Founded in 2017, Topl is a blockchain-as-a-service company that's developing a purpose-built blockchain ecosystem to empower impact and sustainability within its userbase of businesses. The company's $15 million series A round was co-led by Houston-based Mercury, Republic Asia, and Malta-based Cryptology Asset Group.

“Topl’s blockchain was purpose built to power the next wave of supply chains and markets, that are more sustainable and inclusive,” says Chris Georgen, founder and managing director of Topl, in a news release. “Every decision we’ve made has been relentlessly focused on this problem and it’s exciting to see this approach yielding results with more than 30 different impact-forward use cases already live or approaching launch. Through this latest fundraise and with the strong network we’ve built, we’re looking to accelerate the growth of our ecosystem and setting a goal of at least 100 applications launched by next year.”

The company, which is now headquartered in Austin but still has a presence in Houston, has raised over $20 million in investment to date. Topl announced its $3 million seed round of funding — also led by Mercury — in 2020.

“Despite broader market dynamics across the Web3 sector, Topl’s strategic and early focus on users allowed the team to build an incredibly strong foundation that can weather cycles by providing an increasingly in-demand service to companies implementing various sustainable initiatives,” says Samantha Lewis, principal at Mercury, in the release. “We are excited to support Topl in this pivotal growth period.”

The round included two new international investors in Topl. Republic Asia is a newly launched arm of private investing platform Republic that is focused on fintech and web3 solutions. Houstonian Youngro Lee leads the division as executive vice president at Republic and head of Republic Asia and will join Topl's board to assist with international expansion.

“Sustainability and climate considerations are no longer mere luxuries, but an absolute necessity for companies to contribute to global finance and commerce,” Lee says in the release. “Topl will make it easier than ever for any organization around the world to harness the power of blockchain to track and monetize their positive environmental impact.”

Cryptology, with its European operations, also brings Topl key international presence.

"It's been an honor to see Topl progress from when it first entered Iconic Lab's accelerator program back in 2018 to where it is today," says Patrick Lowry, CEO of Cryptology, in the release. "Cryptology is hyper-focused on driving crypto adoption in an impact-focused, sustainable manner. We are proud to add Topl to our portfolio of companies and excitedly await Topl's network decentralization."

In addition to increasing its international impact, Topl will reportedly continue to build out its blockchain and technology. Per the release, Topl expects to launch a traceability platform for ethically and sustainably sourced products later this year.

Topl, which launched a grant program to fund Web3 startups and developers with inclusive and sustainable solutions, plans to announce its first 20 grant awards early next year. The grant recipients will also receive development, go-to-market, and fundraising support from Topl's team and network.

A new report finds that the Lone Star State isn't prime for innovation jobs — and more Houston innovation news. Photo via Getty Images

Houston hospital doles out DEI funds, investors join prestigious programs, and more local innovation news

short stories

Houston's summer has been heating up in terms of innovation news, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, Houston investors were tapped for impressive roles, a local hospital system has invested in the city's diversity and inclusion, and more.

Houston Methodist awards more than $4.6 million for 2022 DEI Grant program

Ryane Jackson, vice-president, community benefits at Houston Methodist, oversees the grant program. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist

Houston Methodist announced grants to 59 Houston-area nonprofit organizations totalling more than $4.6 million thanks to the Houston Methodist Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Grant Program. The program supports "community initiatives focused on addressing the social determinants of health that lead to health inequities within racial, ethnic and social minorities, including women, people experiencing homelessness, older adults, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants and more," per a news release.

It's the second year for the DEI Grant Program, and the latest donations will support more than 100,000 people in the Houston area through 29 healthy neighborhood programs, 16 economic empowerment programs, and 17 educational empowerment programs.

“It’s incredibly encouraging to see so many local non-profit organizations working to close the health and social disparity gaps that exist among minority groups in the Houston area,” says Ryane Jackson, vice-president, community benefits at Houston Methodist, in the release. “The goal of the Houston Methodist DEI grant program is to enact meaningful change. For us, that change entails working together with local charity agencies in our collective pursuit to build a healthier Houston that reaffirms the value and worth of everyone. Entering our second year of funding, we’re pleased to support even more local organizations this year who are critical in shaping our community.”

The program has two types of grant funding — the Social Equity Grant for health equity programs targeting racial and ethnic minorities, and the DEI Grant, which provides resources for operating growing agencies serving broader minority communities.

Some examples of the grants are:

  • DEI Grant to the The Montrose Center, which empowers the LGBTQ+ community and their families to live healthier, more fulfilling lives. DEI grant funds will benefit LGBTQ+ seniors and African American seniors from Third Ward in need of affordable and affirmative housing and will enable the hiring of a case manager to support the initiative.
  • DEI Grant tp the Santa Maria Hostel, which offers a comprehensive continuum of care for women and their families including residential detoxification, substance use disorder treatment for women, and emergency and transitional housing. DEI Grant funding will support the Recovery Support Services Program that assists formerly incarcerated women with housing and economic stability through salary support for Peer Recovery Coaches. This agency is the only recovery agency that allows women to keep their children with them while going through the program.
  • Social Equity Grant to Boat People SOS - Houston, a nonprofit social and legal services provider whose purpose is to empower, organize, and equip immigrant communities in their pursuit of liberty and dignity. The Houston Methodist Social Equity grant funding will support their senior services program designed to address social support needs and provide resources to Vietnamese seniors.

2 Mercury investors named to prestigious programs

Samantha Lewis and Aziz Gilani of Mercury have each received exciting appointments. Photos via Mercury

Houston-based venture capital firm has two employees to celebrate. Samantha Lewis, principal at Mercury, was announced as a member of the Class 27 of the Kauffman Fellows Program, a group of global innovation investors, just after Aziz Gilani, managing director at the firm, was appointed to the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a Federal advisory committee that advises the United States Secretary of Commerce.

For Lewis, the appointment enrolls her in the two-year program, which is described as "a United Nations of venture investing," in a news release. She joins a network of 765 fellows — including 59 in the current cohort — spanning six continents and representing over 670 VC firms around the globe.

At NACIE, Gilani was one of 32 leaders appointed by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo last month. The group, according to a news release, will be tasked with "developing a National Entrepreneurship Strategy that strengthens America’s ability to compete and win as the world’s leading startup nation and as the world’s leading innovator in critical emerging technologies."

Texas ranks as middle of the pack when it comes to innovative states

Texas ranks in the lower half of the nation when it comes to innovation jobs. Chart via Smartest Dollar

The Lone Star State was named the 30th most innovative state, according to a new report from Smartest Dollar. The report evaluated data from 350 metros and all 50 states and sought to identify the locations with the most innovative workers. Researchers calculated a composite innovation index for each location and ranked states accordingly.

Here is a summary of the data for Texas, according to the report:

  • Composite innovation index: 59.30
  • Share of workers in the most innovative jobs: 2.6 percent
  • Total workers in the most innovative jobs: 322,910
  • Average annual wage for all workers: $54,230
  • Average annual wage for workers in the most innovative jobs: $77,098

Here are the statistics for the entire United States:

  • Composite innovation index: 59.53
  • Share of workers in the most innovative jobs: 3.1 percent
  • Total workers in the most innovative jobs: 4,428,790
  • Average annual wage for all workers: $58,260
  • Average annual wage for workers in the most innovative jobs: $86,562

Applications are open for pitch competition

A new pitch competition is looking for finalists. Photo via Getty Images

Applications are now open for the Black Girl Ventures x Omaze Houston pitch competition. The deadline to submit is July 1.

This fall, seven finalists will pitch their businesses to a panel of judges, and the first place winner will win $10,000. Second and third place winners will receive $6,000 and $2,000, respectively. Capital One will match funds, effectively doubling the prize money for the top three finalists.

Eligibility includes Black and Brown woman-identifying founders with revenue-generating (under $1 million) businesses. Founders can submit their applications online. Finalists will be notified on July 18.

Black Girl Ventures has been active in Houston since 2020. According to the organization, the region has six Change Agents, or fellows, who work to strengthen and expand the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Houston startup joins national 5G accelerator cohort

Houston startup joins a cohort of companies changing the future of 5G. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston company has been named to a new 5G-focused accelerator program. The gBETA 5G Technology Spring 2022 cohort includes Houston-based Ohana. Using advertising revenue, the company brings free access to information and connectivity to the world and is planning to roll out a 5G smartphone and data plan free to users across the globe later this year.

gBETA, which has an industry agnostic cohort ongoing in Houston, also has this 5G-focuset version that follows a similar structure. The five companies will go through the free, seven-week accelerator — that kicked off May 5 — and receive intensive and individualized coaching and access to gener8tor’s national network of mentors, customers, corporate partners, and investors.

The program will culminate with the gener8tor Showcase Day in the fall, which will highlight each of the five companies.

“We’re so fortunate to have such a diverse set of founders from across the country, with expertise across the internet technology and communications continuum,” says Doug Applegate, gBETA director for the 5G Technology program. “They highlight the capabilities and possibilities of what 5G Technology can bring to the world, and we’re excited to see how the companies grow.”

The other companies include Chicago-based Socian Technologies, Fishers, Indiana-based Qumulex Boston-based Mentore, and Dallas-based Taubyte.

Health care innovators joined Houston Methodist and Texas A&M University's ENMED program to discuss women in health care innovation and venture capital investment. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist

Overheard: Houston experts discuss women in med tech, insight from investors, and more

Eavesdropping in Houston

Houston's health innovation community is making strides every day toward greater quality of care and technology adoption — but what challenges is the industry facing these days?

Through a partnership between Houston Methodist and Texas A&M University's ENMED program at Houston Tech Rodeo, health innovators weighed in on topics surrounding the industry, including biases and investment opportunities.

Missed the conversation? Here are seven key moments from the panels that took place at A&M's new ENMED building in the Texas Medical Center on Thursday, March 3.

“When I look at learning and understanding the priorities — how to take care of patients and also enable those who are doing that work, that’s part of understanding the culture and learning because in the 40 years that I’ve been in the industry, it’s never been the same. There are always things that continue to present challenges from unexpected places.”

​— Ayse McCracken, founder of Ignite Healthcare Network, says on the "Four Fierce Females" panel, referencing the rate of tech disruption and how new technologies, medicine, etc. can change the health care industry and practitioners need to find ways to keep up and stay ahead of the curve.

“Whenever you experience biases, what can you do? You can lean into the fact that we are in a position to help educate and make a change. And that’s going to look different for every one of us, but lean into that instead of feeling down by it.”

— Samantha Lewis, principal at Mercury Fund, says on the "Four Fierce Females" panel, explaining that women across industries should lean into being a change agent when met with bias in the workplace.

“The reason I feel so passionate is (I’m always thinking,) ‘What more can we be doing for our community? What’s working well and what’s not working well,' so I can take that back and make positive changes in our organization.”

— Michelle Stansbury, vice president of innovation and IT applications at Houston Methodist, says on the "Four Fierce Females" panel, explaining that when she's on the other side of the equation as a patient, she really considers her experience and how it could be better.

“Every time you raise money you’re telling a story. You have to figure out what adds value to that story. … I think health care is tricky too because people getting into it aren’t necessarily aware of how complex it is.”

— Dan Watkins, venture partner and co-founder at Mercury Fund, says on the "Where’s My Money At?" investor panel, adding how important it is to investors that founders have specific information — market potential, road map, etc. — when pitching to VCs.

“As a health care startup founder and CEO, you have to wear so many different hats — especially if you’re talking about diagnostics and medical devices. It starts in the science, moves to engineering, and then winds up being commercial. To expect someone to be an expert at all those fields is very difficult.”

— Tim Marx, venture partner at Baird Capital, says on the "Where’s My Money At?" investor panel, adding that, “That’s why we look for the CEOs who really understand where they are, where they’re going, and what they need.”

“One of the things we really appreciate when we engage with founders, it’s not about ‘here’s why my company is great.’ It’s more about understanding the questions your business needs to answer. … If you think about that, that’s what we want to fund. We want to invest in the vision, opportunity, and the people, but we want to fund the — the roadmap — that usually comes with being thoughtful about the questions you’re trying to answer.”

— John Reale, venture lead at TMC Venture Fund, says on the "Where’s My Money At?" investor panel, adding "That's where we get energized."

“The idea to attract talent that’s already built great companies across the US and the world to come here, hire here, and grow here — that’s starting to actually pay off. One of the things that’s big about Houston is it’s really gritty — it’s very ‘show me the data and prove it to me first.’ … We’re having those proven points.”

— Emily Reiser, associate director of innovation at the Texas Medical Center , says on the "Where’s My Money At?" investor panel about the work TMC is doing with its accelerator program.

The city's top power players within Houston's energy innovation ecosystem joined virtual SXSW to discuss Houston's life science innovation scene and developing an inclusive ecosystem. Photos courtesy

Overheard: Houston's innovation leaders weigh in on the city's developing ecosystem at SXSW

EAVESDROPPING ONLINE

Another day of SXSW 2021 has concluded, and just like the first day, Houston innovators logged on to discuss technology and innovation that's taking off in town.

The second of the two days of programming focused on the development of the Houston innovation ecosystem — including how the city is factoring in diversity and inclusion into development — with interviews hosted by me, Natalie Harms, editor of InnovationMap. Missed out on the fun? Catch up with a few overheard moments from Houston House or stream the full interviews below.

"“We have to be true to ourselves of what works for Houston. Making sure the DEI is interwoven and in our DNA of our ecosystem so that we don’t make the same mistakes as other cities." — Ashley DeWalt, managing director of DivInc Houston

Video courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

Houston has an advantage in developing its innovation ecosystem because it can do so by learning from established ecosystems on the coasts. Locally, that means making diversity and inclusion a top priority. At a virtual SXSW Houston House panel, Ashley DeWalt, managing director of DivInc Houston, and Jan Odegard, interim executive director of The Ion, discuss the importance of prioritizing inclusion in developing Houston's innovation ecosystem. Click here to watch the full interview.

“This pandemic has really highlighted a lot of the health care disparities that are present within our systems. … Houston is in a unique position to address that.” — Fiona Mack, head of JLABS @ TMC

Video courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

The Texas Medical Center is the largest medical center in the world with over 10 million patients coming in annually — and JLABS @ TMC is right in the middle of that. With this access to patients and clinical trials, Houston has a lot of potential to attract new innovative companies solving the world's biggest health care problems. At a virtual SXSW Houston House HOU Talk, Fiona Mack, head of JLABS @TMC, discusses the momentum behind health tech innovation in Houston. Click here to watch the full interview.

“Whatever the training is, you have to actually create bias disruptors and points of friction and processes that change behavior. If we don’t have a way to implement what we learn, it doesn’t really change culture.” — LaTanya Flix, senior vice president at the GHP

Video courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, corporations of all shapes and sizes were inspired to look inward to address inequity within their workforce — from training to shifts in workplace culture. At a virtual SXSW Houston House HOU Talk, LaTanya Flix, senior vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) at the Greater Houston Partnership, shares how she's on a mission to spread mindful DEI initiatives across all of the GHP's member organizations. Click here to watch the full interview.

“I see a world where I’m sitting in a boardroom, and I’m not the only woman anymore.” — Samantha Lewis, principal at Mercury Fund

Video courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

Women in venture capital are used to being the only women in the room and are fighting for that not to be the case for future generations. At a virtual SXSW Houston House panel, Sandy Guitar, managing director of the HX Venture Fund moderates a discussion with fellow women in VC, Paige Pitcher, director of innovation at Hines, and Samantha Lewis, principal at Mercury Fund. Click here to watch the full interview.

“There’s an incredible number of innovations that have popped up in Houston, but a lot of them have been centered around solving engineering-type problems at industrial scale — and that still exists, but doesn’t get as much coverage as consumer-facing technologies.” — Josh Pherigo, director of research and data analytics at GHP

Video courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

When tracking any sort of progress or growth, business look to their numbers and data. Houston's innovation system is no different. At a virtual SXSW Houston House HOU Talk, Josh Pherigo, director of research and data analytics at the Greater Houston Partnership, dives in deep with the facts and figures of Houston's burgeoning innovation ecosystem by following the venture dollars coming into local startups. Click here to watch the full interview.

“If you look at the density in Houston, being the energy capital of the United States, there are probably few places in the world where you can walk 15 minutes in either direction and talk to about 100 companies that would potentially be customers.” — Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal

Video courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

A good startup idea comes from necessity and a way to apply technology to solve problems and shorten business delivery times, and the maritime shipping industry has a lot of opportunities for these types of innovations. At a virtual SXSW Houston House HOU Talk, Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal, sets sail on a conversation about the maritime shipping industry — and how it was ripe with disruption. Click here to watch the full interview.

“You have institutions of exception in Houston where innovation flows from. The question isn’t that it’s not there, it’s how have we been tapping it.” — David Schubert, president of Magnolia Tejas Corp.

Video courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

Houston has a burgeoning life science innovation scene — but what's that next step for its development? At a virtual SXSW Houston House HOU Talk, David Schubert, president of Magnolia Tejas Corp. discusses the potential of Houston's world-class oncologists and biotech innovators have to make the city a hub for cancer innovation. Click here to watch the full interview.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Samantha Lewis of Mercury Fund, Barbara Burger of Chevron, and Lauren Bahorich of Cloudbreak Ventures. 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 female innovators across industries recently making headlines — all three focusing on investing in innovation from B2B software to energy tech.

Samantha Lewis, principal at Mercury Fund

Samantha Lewis, principal at Mercury Fund, joins this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Mercury Fund

When Samantha Lewis started her new principal role at Houston-based Mercury Fund, she hit the ground running. Top priority for Lewis is building out procedure for the venture capital firm as well as finding and investing in game-changing fintech.

"(I'm focused on) the democratization of financial services," Lewis says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Legacy financial institutions have ignored large groups of our population here in America and broader for a very long time. Technology is actually breaking down a lot of those barriers, so there are all these groups that have traditionally been ignored that now technology can reach to help them build wealth." Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Barbara Burger, president of Chevron Technology Ventures

Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures, spearheaded by Barbara Burger, has announced their latest fund. Courtesy of CTV

Chevron Technology Ventures LLC's recently announced $300 million Future Energy Fund II builds on the success of the first Future Energy Fund, which kicked off in 2018 and invested in more than 10 companies specializing in niches like carbon capture, emerging mobility, and energy storage. The initial fund contained $100 million.

"The new fund will focus on innovation likely to play a critical role in the future energy system in industrial decarbonization, emerging mobility, energy decentralization, and the growing circular carbon economy," Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures says in a February 25 release.

Future Energy Fund II is the eighth venture fund created by Chevron Technology Ventures since its establishment in 1999. Click here to read more.

Lauren Bahorich, CEO and founder of Cloudbreak Enterprises

Cloudbreak Enterprises, founded by Lauren Bahorich is getting in on the ground level with software startups — quickly helping them take an idea to market. Photo courtesy of Cloudbreak

Lauren Bahorich wanted to stand up a venture studio that really focused on growing and scaling B-to-B SaaS-focused, early-stage technology. She founded Cloudbreak Enterprises last year and already has three growing portfolio companies.

"We truly see ourselves as co-founders, so our deals are structured with co-founder equity," Bahorich says, explaining that Cloudbreak is closer to a zero-stage venture capital fund than to any incubator. "We are equally as incentivized as our co-founders to de-risk this riskiest stage of startups because we are so heavily invested and involved with our companies."

This year, Bahorich is focused on onboarding a few new disruptive Houston startups. Click here to read more.

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University of Houston powers up first robot food server in a U.S. restaurant

order up

The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

“People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

The Servi robots deliver food from the kitchen to the table. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

“Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

Once loaded, the kitchen staff can tell the Servi robots where to take the dishes. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings.

“Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

“To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

"Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

"We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

"Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

Houston SPAC announces merger with Beaumont-based tech company in deal valued at $100M

speaking of spacs

A Houston SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, has announced the company it plans to merge with in the new year.

Beaumont-based Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc., a provider of thermal imaging platforms, and Houston-based SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: SMAP), a publicly-traded SPAC with $117 million held in trust, announced their agreement for ICI to IPO via SPAC.

Originally announced in the fall of last year, the blank-check company is led by David Gow, CEO and chairman. Gow is also chairman and CEO of Gow Media, which owns digital media outlets SportsMap, CultureMap, and InnovationMap, as well as the SportsMap Radio Network, ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

The deal will close in the first half of 2023, according to a news release, and the combined company will be renamed Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc. and will be listed on NASDAQ under a new ticker symbol.

“ICI is extremely excited to partner with David Gow and SportsMap as we continue to deliver our innovative software and hardware solutions," says Gary Strahan, founder and CEO of ICI, in the release. "We believe our software and sensor technology can change the way companies across industries perform predictive maintenance to ensure reliability, environmental integrity, and safety through AI and machine learning.”

Strahan will continue to serve as CEO of the combined company, and Gow will become chairman of the board. The transaction values the combined company at a pre-money equity valuation of $100 million, according to the release, and existing ICI shareholders will roll 100 percent of their equity into the combined company as part of the transaction.

“We believe ICI is poised for strong growth," Gow says in the release. "The company has a strong value proposition, detecting the overheating of equipment in industrial settings. ICI also has assembled a strong management team to execute on the opportunity. We are delighted to combine our SPAC with ICI.”

Founded in 1995, ICI provides infrared and imaging technology — as well as service, training, and equipment repairs — to various businesses and individuals across industries.