A Canadian software company with operations in Houston raised fresh funding. Photo via Getty Images

CruxOCM, a Canadian tech startup that is establishing a Houston outpost, has collected $6 million in venture capital.

Bullpen Capital led the "seed extension" funding round, with participation from Angular Ventures, Root Ventures, Golden Ventures, Cendana Capital, and Industry Ventures. In 2019, two years after CruxCOM was founded, Angular Ventures and Root Ventures co-led a $2.6 million funding round.

Calgary-based CruxOCM, says the new capital will go toward expanding its product lines, boosting the efficiency of its installation process, and growing its North American team. The company plans to extend its product reach to operators of gas plants, gas pipelines, and offshore facilities.

The startup makes software for control rooms operated by energy companies.

"Control rooms are the brains, heart, and soul of the energy sector, and they are in dire need of innovation. Our mission to give control room operators superpowers will ensure the efficiency and safety of an essential infrastructure we rely on daily," Vicki Knott, co-founder and CEO of CruxOCM, says in a September 14 news release.

Knott is a chemical engineer and former control room operator.

The company's robotic industrial process automation (RIPA) serves as the foundation for CruxOCM's gatherBOT and pipeBOT automation products. The introduction of two more products — powerOPT and draOPT — is underway. Houston-based Phillips 66 is piloting the powerOPT technology.

CruxOCM works with companies that have market capitalizations of $17 billion to $77 billion to improve control room efficiency and safety through automation.

"CruxOCM's RIPA is a game-changer in the industry, and we're thrilled to be a part of this next growth stage," says Eric Wiesen, managing partner of Bullpen Capital. "RIPA is crucial for bringing increased efficiency into existing heavy-industry control room infrastructure while maintaining safety. Even as we prioritize green energy initiatives globally, oil and gas will still be instrumental in the energy transition, so we must use technology to automate where we can while helping companies to augment metrics in order to hit ESG goals."

Knott recently told InnovationMap that CruxOCM has three full-time employees in Houston and is on track to add more workers in sales, product development, and engineering.

The CEO continues to hunt for office space in North Houston. "Depending on the comfort level of employees, it could be open in the next few months," a company spokeswoman says.

Today, CruxOCM employs 18 people, including the three workers in Houston, and aims to add six more employees by the end of 2021.

This Houston startup has a game-changing technology for deep learning. Photo via Getty Images

Houston artificial intelligence startup raises $6M in seed funding

money moves

A computer science professor at Rice University has raised seed funding last month in order to grow his company that's focused on democratizing artificial intelligence tools.

ThirdAI, founded by Anshumali Shrivastava in April, raised $6 million in a seed funding round from three California-based VCs — Neotribe Ventures and Cervin Ventures, which co-led the round with support from Firebolt Ventures.

Shrivastava, CEO, co-founded the company with Tharun Medini, a recent Ph.D. who graduated under Shrivastava from Rice's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Medini serves as the CTO of ThirdAI — pronounced "third eye." The startup is building the next generation of scalable and sustainable AI tools and deep learning systems.

"We are democratizing artificial intelligence through software innovations," says Shrivastava in a news release from Rice. "Our innovation would not only benefit current AI training by shifting to lower-cost CPUs, but it should also allow the 'unlocking' of AI training workloads on GPUs that were not previously feasible."

The technology ThirdAI is working with comes from 10 years of deep learning research and innovation. The company's technology has the potential to make computing 15-times faster.

"ThirdAI has developed a breakthrough approach to train deep learning models with a large number of parameters that run efficiently on general purpose CPUs. This technology has the potential to result in a gigantic leap forward in the accuracy of deep learning models," per and announcement from Cervin Ventures. "Our investment in ThirdAI was a no-brainer and we are fortunate to have had the opportunity to invest."

Anshumali Shrivastava is an associate professor of computer science at Rice University. Photo via rice.edu

DocSpace was founded by Chief Product Officer Miles Montes (left) and CEO Mario Amaro, a physician and U.S. Navy Veteran. Photo courtesy of DocSpace

Houston digital health platform raises $1.2M seed round

money moves

A Houston-based software company providing clinicians a turn-key platform for their practice has announced the close of its seed funding round.

DocSpace raised $1.2 million in seed funding led by Slauson & Co. with participation by Precursor Ventures, Acrew Capital's Scout Fund, and SputnikATX Ventures. The company's angel investors Nathan and Sonia Baschez, Nikhil Krishnan, and Eliana Murillo. The company was founded by CEO Mario Amaro, a physician and U.S. Navy Veteran, and Chief Product Officer Miles Montes, an expert in platform product management previously at ADP and ShopLatinx.

"Existing practice management software requires clinicians to manually self-navigate the expensive and complicated business formation process before they're able to utilize any of their product services," says Amaro in a news release. "When you require clinicians to do all the hard work of starting a new business then force them to purchase expensive software, it's no surprise that fewer clinicians have the opportunity to build new businesses in their communities."

Since its launch in March 2020, DocSpace has helped hundreds of clinicians, therapists, dentists, physicians, and optometrists build their practices with its end-to-end software that provides, according to the release, HIPAA-compliant tools like "digital health storefronts with custom themes to back office management tools like scheduling, video conferencing, banking, payroll, and bookkeeping."

"Making it easier for clinicians to start new businesses is critical to decreasing clinician burnout, giving more choices to patients, and reducing the amount of administrative and overhead bloat in delivering health services. We should treat clinicians like entrepreneurs and reduce the barriers to them striking out on their own," says Nikhil Krishnan, the founder of Out-Of-Pocket and adviser and investor to DocSpace.

The seed funding go toward building out DocSpace Pay, a payment system tool for patients and clinicians.

"This is why we were inspired by Shopify's business model and the infrastructure they created to empower retail merchants to be small business owners," says Amaro. "We are building the first clinical practice operating system that provides clinician entrepreneurs the opportunity to seek practice independence, helping them get to market faster, while leveling the playing field so they can compete against large hospital systems and other VC-backed healthcare startups."


Stephanie Campbell joins the Houston Innovators Podcast this week to share some trends in early-stage investing. Photo courtesy of HAN

Local investment leader talks trends in Houston venture capital activity

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 91

Backed by fresh funding from limited partners, The Artemis Fund is growing its portfolio at a time when funding female founders is more important than ever.

Stephanie Campbell — general partner and co-founder of The Artemis Fund, a Houston-based venture fund focused on supporting female founders — joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Artemis's first $15 million fund, which closed earlier this year.

"We raised more than half of the fund during the pandemic, so we know what it was like to be a founder raising funds in a pandemic," Campbell says on the episode. "Running a fund, I don't think a lot of people realize, is a lot like starting a startup, except we're raising money and backing startups at the same time."

The Artemis Fund invested in 10 startups — two in Houston — since its launch in 2019 and it was raising its fund I. Now, for 2021, Campbell and her partners — Leslie Goldman and Diana Murakhovskaya — are on the hunt for five more early-stage female-led companies to back.

"We're laser focused on finding the final five awesome women to add to our portfolio and then we'll start thinking seriously about launching fund II, probably at the end of the year," she explains.

Campbell says Artemis looks for seed-stage companies with a product already developed and ready to scale.

"We're really good at finding companies that have essentially bootstrapped, have a product in market with revenue, and we're usually that first institutional check," she says.

Within the companies that already make up the portfolio, a trend has emerged. Campbell says they are targeting fintech and e-commerce companies, as well as startups within caretech.

"These founders — all 10 of them — are in our mind creating a technology that helps people build wealth and care for their families and communities more sustainably," she says.

Speaking on VC trends, Campbell, who's also the managing director of the Houston Angel Network, says that despite the problems the pandemic provided the innovation ecosystem, HAN actually saw sizeable growth in membership and interest.

"I think that given the markets with quite a bit of liquidity, people were looking for new and interesting ways to invest and make a return," Campbell says on the podcast. "In 2020, we actually grew by 30 percent and are up to 130 members of the Houston Angel Network and are continuing to grow through 2021."

The organization pivoted to virtual pitches right off the bat and didn't slow down at all at the emergence of COVID-19. In fact, pitching at HAN has only gotten more competitive, Campbell says, and the membership is looking for early-stage companies that are out of just idea stage.

"It's getting harder and harder to get pre-seed funding in that first check for an idea stage," Campbell says on trends in the industry. "There are just so many deals that have done so much with so little to prove that they have product-market fit — and those tend to be the deals that pitch at our monthly meetings."

Campbell shares more about the trends in VC in Houston on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


From friends and family rounds to how to navigate a seed round, here's what you need to know about raising money in Texas. Getty Images

Here's what you need to know if you're raising a seed round in Texas

Guest column

In the vast majority of startups we've worked with across Texas, their "seed round" is not the first money in the door. That money is often called a "Friends & Family Round" and it's usually from people so close to the entrepreneurs that they are willing to take a gamble before there is really even much "there" to invest in. It also might include bootstrap funds put in by the entrepreneurs themselves.

After an F&F Round, Texas startups will pursue a "seed round," which generally includes some angel investors in the local and broader ecosystem. A problem we occasionally run into is that Texas entrepreneurs, including those in Houston, will get bad advice on what the right structures are for this kind of deal; either because they are reading a blog post from Silicon Valley (where things work VERY differently) or they're talking to someone marketing themselves as an "adviser" when their advice doesn't have much substantive deal experience backing it.

If your seed round is under $1 million, you will most likely structure it as a convertible note with a valuation cap and a 2 to 3 year maturity. Convertible notes are extremely slimmed down investment instruments that angel investors across Texas will be very familiar with. Usually, the "deal" in a convertible note round is that investors will get minimal up-front rights, in order to streamline early decision-making and keep legal costs down for negotiation, but they will get back-end protections like debt treatment if the company goes south. They will also almost always get a valuation cap and/or a discount on the price that future VCs pay, as recognition for the extra risk the seed investors are taking relative to later investors.

Once seed rounds get above $1 million, a more robust equity (stock) based investment structure starts to make more sense. There are two types of equity rounds, broadly speaking: seed equity and full VC-style equity. The latter involves a large set of heavily negotiated documents with robust investor protections, and is the structure most often utilized for a Series A (after seed). The former (seed equity) is a slimmed down version of full VC docs designed to give investors some rights, but keep negotiation costs (including legal fees) within a range that's reasonable for the smaller amount of money being raised. Investors vary as to whether they will accept simpler seed equity docs, or require you to give them full VC-style protections.

Given the diversity of investor expectations and contexts you're likely to run into in structuring a seed round, and the very high-stakes (and permanent) implications of the contracts you're going to sign, it's extremely important that advisers you work with have specialized experience in these kinds of deals.

In the case of lawyers specifically, it's also extremely important that they not have conflicts of interest with the investors you are raising money from. We too often see clever investors nudge entrepreneurs toward utilizing the investor's preferred law firm. Anyone with an ounce of honesty and experience can see why that's a problem.

Make sure you understand the high-level concepts and structures that are within the norms of your startup ecosystem, and then work with experienced, trustworthy advisors to translate everything into a deal that makes sense for your company's unique context.

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Jose Ancer is an emerging companies partner at Egan Nelson LLP. He also writes for Silicon Hills Lawyer, an internationally recognized startup/vc law blog focused on entrepreneurs located outside of Silicon Valley, including Texas.

Texas venture capital deals had a slow quarter, according to Crunchbase data. Getty Images

Houston sees underwhelming venture capital funds in Q3 2019, following larger Texas trend

funding fumble

The entire state of Texas saw an unimpressive third quarter of venture deals — especially compared to the second quarter's reports — and Houston was not immune.

The state reported $372.4 million fundraised by tech startups in Q3 of 2019, according to Crunchbase data, which is less than half of what was reported in Q3 of 2018 ($776.8 million) and what the state raked in the second quarter of this year ($830.6 million).

Houston brought in a measly $38.4 million last quarter, per Crunchbase, and compared to the $251 million raised by Houston companies in Q2, that drop stings. It's the lowest quarterly venture amount Houston's seen in over a year, and lower than Houston's $44.7 million reported for Q1. Zooming out a little, the city's venture reports remain a rollercoaster of sorts with strong quarters bookended by lousy ones.

Chart via InnovationMap using Crunchbase data.

Austin maintained its top spot on the Texas venture leader board with $236.4 million of Texas' total $372.4 million raised in Q3 2019, according to Crunchbase, but that's about $200 million less than the city raised in Q2. Meanwhile, Dallas — a city Houston usually competes with for the No. 2 spot — raised $70.3 million compared to its $126.7 million raised in Q2. The only region up in raises is categorized as "other Texas metros," which went from $7.3 million to $27.4 million between Q2 and Q3.

According to Crunchbase, the city's $38.4 million was raised in six deals between June and September 2019. The top deal of those six companies was raised by Axiom Space, which closed a $16 million in a seed round.

Crunchbase's Texas reporter, Mary Ann Azevedo, reminds readers that their proprietary data is subject to reporting delays.

"Actual deal counts and dollar volume totals are higher than what Crunchbase currently has on record, and the numbers we're reporting today are likely to change as more data gets added to Crunchbase over time," she writes.

Just like Crunchbase, InnovationMap doesn't get to report on every single venture deal. However, here are some of the raises we covered in the third quarter of this year.

  • Spruce, a service provider for apartment residents, raised a $3 million round in July. The company moved its headquarters to Austin around the same time. Read more.
  • Grab, a mobile software company that's designed an airport mobile ordering app, closed a multimillion-dollar series A this summer. Read more.
  • Fannin Partners LLC, an early-stage life science commercialization company, closed a $5.25 million round this summer. Read more.
  • Voyager, a bulk shipping software company, raised $1.5 million in seed funding in August. Read more.
  • Cemvita Factory, which created a way to mimic photosynthesis, raised an undisclosed amount from corporate partners in August and September. Read more.
  • Galen Data, which uses its cloud-based software to connect medical devices, closed a $1 million seed round in September. Read more.
  • Syzygy Plasmonics, a hydrogen fuel cell creator, closed a $5.8 million Series A round in September. Read more.
  • sEATz, an app that allows in-seat ordering, closed a $1.3 million seed round in September. Read more.
  • Sourcewater Inc., which specializes in oilfield water intelligence, closed its series A round at $7.2 million in September. Read more.
  • Topl, a blockchain developer, raised over $700,000 in its seed round in September. Read more.
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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston startup secures big contract, coworking company acquired, and more local innovation news

short stories

Houston is starting 2022 strong 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, the Bayou City is ranked based on its opportunities for STEM jobs, a Houston blockchain startup scores a major contract, Rice University opens applications for its veteran-owned busineess competition, and more.

Data Gumbo announces contract with Equinor

After a successful pilot, Equinor has signed off on a contract with Data Gumbo.. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

Houston-based Data Gumbo, an industrial blockchain-software-as-a-service company, announced that it has signed a contract with Equinor. The global energy company's venture arm, Equinor Ventures, supported the startup's $7.7 million series B round, which closed last year.

The company's technology features smart contract automation and execution, which reduces contract leakage, frees up working capital, enables real-time cash and financial management, and delivers provenance with unprecedented speed, accuracy, visibility and transparency, per the release.

“Equinor is an industry trailblazer, demonstrating the true value of our international smart contract network to improve and automate manual processes, and bring trust to all parties,” says Andrew Bruce, founder and CEO of Data Gumbo, in a news release. “Smart contracts are playing a critical role in driving the energy industry forward. Our work with Equinor clearly demonstrates the benefits that supermajors and their supply chain customers, partners and vendors experience by automating commercial transactions. We are proud to continue our work with Equinor to help them realize the savings, efficiencies and new levels of transparency available through our smart contract network.”

Equinor opted into a pilot with the company a few years ago.

“Since piloting Data Gumbo’s smart contracts for offshore drilling services in 2019, we have worked with the company to continually refine and improve use cases. We now have the potential to expand Data Gumbo’s smart contract network to enable transactional certainty across our portfolio from the Norwegian Continental Shelf to our Brazilian operated assets and beyond,” says Erik Kirkemo, senior vice president at Equinor. “GumboNet reduces inefficiencies and processing time around contract execution in complex supply chains, which is a problem in the broader industry, and we look forward to realizing the streamlined process and cost savings of its rapidly expanding smart contract network.”

WeWork acquires Dallas coworking brand with 6 Houston locations

Common Desk, which has six locations in Houston including in The Ion, has been acquired. Photo courtesy of Common Desk

Dallas-based Common Desk, which has six locations in Houston, announced its acquisition by WeWork. The company's office spaces will be branded as “Common Desk, a WeWork Company,” according to a news release.

“Similar to WeWork, Common Desk is a company built on the concept of bringing people together to have their best day at work," says Nick Clark, CEO at Common Desk, in the release. "With the added support from WeWork, Common Desk will be able to not only leverage WeWork’s decade of experience in member services to improve the experience of our own members but also leverage WeWork’s impressive client roster to further build out our member base.”

Here are the six Common Desk spaces in Houston:

Here's how Houston ranks as a metro for STEM jobs

Source: WalletHub

When it comes to the best cities for jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math, Houston ranks in the middle of the pack. The greater Houston area ranked at No. 37 among the 100 largest metros across 19 key metrics on the list compiled by personal finance website, WalletHub. Here's how Houston fared on the report's metrics:

  • No. 36 – percent of Workforce in STEM
  • No. 74 – STEM Employment Growth
  • No. 43 – Math Performance
  • No. 16 – Quality of Engineering Universities
  • No. 2 – Annual Median Wage for STEM Workers (Adjusted for Cost of Living)
  • No. 90 – Median Wage Growth for STEM Workers
  • No. 75 – Job Openings for STEM Graduates per Capita
  • No. 88 – Unemployment Rate for Adults with at Least a Bachelor’s Degree

Elsewhere in Texas, Austin ranked at No. 2 overall, and Dallas just outranked Houston coming in at No. 34. San Antonio, El Paso, and McAllen ranked No. 51, No. 65, and No. 88, respectively.

Rice University calls for contestants for its 8th annual startup pitch competition for veterans

Calling all veteran and active duty startup founders and business owners. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University is now accepting applications from Houston veterans for its annual business competition. To apply for the 2022 Veterans Business Battle, honorably discharged veterans or active duty founders can head online to learn more and submit their business plan by Feb. 15.

“We’re looking forward to giving veterans the opportunity not just to share their ideas and get financing, but learn from other past winners the lessons about entrepreneurship they’ve lived through while growing their businesses,” event co-chair Reid Schrodel says in a news release.

Over the past few years, finalists have received more than $4 million of investments through the program. This year's monetary prizes add up to $30,000 — $15,000 prize for first place, $10,000 for second place, and $5,000 for third place.

Finalists will be invited to make their business pitch April 22 and 23 at Rice University. Click here to register for the event.

City of Houston receives grant to stimulate STEM opportunities

Houston's youth population is getting a leg up on STEM opportunities. Photo via Getty Images

Thanks to a $150,000 grant from the National League of Cities, the city of Houston has been awarded a chance to provide quality education and career opportunities to at-risk young adults and students. The city is one of five cities also selected to receive specialized assistance from NLC’s staff and other national experts.

“This award is a big win for young people. They will benefit from significant career development opportunities made possible by this grant,” says Mayor Sylvester Turner in a news release. “These are children who would otherwise go without, now having experiences and connections they never thought possible. I commend the National League of Cities for their continued commitment to the future leaders of this country.”

According to the release, the grant money will support the Hire Houston Youth program by connecting diverse opportunity youth to the unique STEM and technology-focused workforce development.

"Our youth deserve educational opportunities that connect them to the local workforce and career exploration, so they can make informed choices about their future career path in Houston’s dynamic economy. Houston youth will only further the amazing things they will accomplish, thanks to this grant," says Olivera Jankovska, director of the Mayor's Office of Education.

Houston software startup raises $12.5M series B

money moves

Houston-based Codenotary, whose technology helps secure software supply chains, has raised $12.5 million in a series B round. Investors in the round include Swiss venture capital firm Bluwat and French venture capital firm Elaia.

The $12.5 million round follows a series A round that was announced in 2020, with total funding now at $18 million.

Codenotary, formely known as vChain, says the fresh round of money will be used to accelerate product development, and expand marketing and sales worldwide. Today, the startup has 100-plus customers, including some of the world’s largest banks.

Codenotary’s co-founders are CEO Moshe Bar and CTO Dennis Zimmer. They started the company in 2018.

Bar co-founded Qumranet, which developed the Linux KVM hypervisor. A hypervisor creates and runs virtual machines. Software provider Red Hat purchased Qumranet in 2008 for $127 million. Before that, he founded hypervisor company XenSource, which cloud computing company Citrix Systems bought in 2007 for $500 million.

“Codenotary offers a solution which allows organizations to quickly identify and track all components in their DevOps cycle and therefore restore trust and integrity in all their myriad applications,” Pascal Blum, senior partner at Bluwat, says in a news release.

The SolarWinds software supply chain hack in 2020 and the more recent emergence of Log4j vulnerabilities have brought the dangers of software lifecycle attacks to the forefront, Bar says. Now, he says, more and more companies are looking for ways to prove the legitimacy of the software that they produce.

Codenotary is the primary contributor to immudb, the an open-source, enterprise-class database with data immutability, or stability, designed to meet the demands of highly used applications.

Dallas-based ridesharing app gears up for expansion across Houston and beyond

HOUSTON INNOVATOR PODCAST EPISODE 118

Before he started his current job, Winston Wright would have thought a startup attempting to compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft was going to fight an uphill battle. Now, he sees how much opportunity there is in the rideshare market.

Wright is the Houston general manager for Alto, a Dallas-based company that's grown its driving service platform into five markets — first from Dallas into Houston and then to Los Angeles, Miami, and, most recently, Washington D.C. Alto's whole goal is to provide reliability and improve user experience.

"We're elevating ridesharing," Wright says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "With Alto, you get a consistent, safe experience with. a high level of hospitality. And that's a key differentiator for us in the market, and we're able to replicate that time and time again."

Wright, whose background is in sales and operations in hospitality, says his vision for alto in Houston is to expand the service — which operates in the central and western parts of the city — throughout the greater Houston area.

"The vision I have for this market is that, as we move forward and continue to expand, that we're covering all of Houston," he says.

This will mean expanding the company's physical presence too. Alto recently announced its larger space in Dallas, and now the Houston operations facility will grow its footprint too.

Wright says he's also focused on growing his team. Over the past two years, pandemic notwithstanding, the company has maintained hiring growth. Alto's drivers are hired as actual employees, not contractors, so they have access to benefits and paid time off.

The company, which raised $45 million in its last round of investment, is expanding next to the Silicon Valley area, followed by three to five more markets in 2022. Then, by the end of 2023, it's Alto's mission to have a completely electronic fleet of vehicles.

"Our goal is to have over 3,000 EV cars and be the first company with a 100 percent electric fleet by 2023," Wright says.

Wright shares more on Alto's future in Texas and beyond, as well as what's challenging him most as he grows the team locally. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.