Houston can learn a lot from the decades of success from Silicon Valley, according to this Houston founder, who outlines just what all the city needs to do to become the startup city it has the potential to be. Photo via Getty Images

Anyone who knows me knows, as a Houston Startup Founder, I often muse about the still developing potential for startups in Houston, especially considering the amount of industry here, subject matter expertise, capital, and size.

For example, Houston is No. 2 in the country for Fortune 500 Companies — with 26 Bayou City companies on the list — behind only NYC, which has 47 ranked corporations, according to Fortune.

Considering layoffs, fund closings, and down rounds, things aren’t all that peachy in San Francisco for the first time in a long time, and despite being a Berkeley native, I’m rooting for Houston now that I’m a transplant.

Let’s start by looking at some stats.

While we’re not No. 1 in all areas, I believe we have the building blocks to be a major player in startups, and in tech (and not just energy and space tech). How? If the best predictor of future success is history, why not use the template of the GOAT of all startup cities: San Francisco and YCombinator. Sorry fellow founders – you’ve heard me talk about this repeatedly.

YCombinator is considered the GOAT of Startup Accelerators/Incubators based on:

  1. The Startup success rate: I’ve heard it’s as high as 75 percent (vs. the national average of 5 to 10 percent) Arc Search says 50 percent of YC Co’s fail within 12 years – not shabby.
  2. Their startup-to-unicorn ratio: 5 to 7 percent of YC startups become unicorns depending on the source — according to an Arc Search search (if you haven’t tried Arc Search do – super cool).
  3. Their network.

YC also parlayed that success into a "YC Startup School" offering:

  1. Free weekly lessons by YC partners — sometimes featuring unicorn alumni
  2. A document and video Library (YC SAFE, etc)
  3. Startup perks for students (AWS cloud credits, etc.)
  4. YC co-founder matching to help founders meet co-founders

Finally, there’s the over $80 billion in returns, according to Arc search, they’ve generated since their 2005 inception with a total of 4,000 companies in their portfolio at over $600 billion in value. So GOAT? Well just for perspective there were a jaw-dropping 18,000 startups in startup school the year I participated – so GOAT indeed.

So how do they do it? Based on anecdotal evidence, their winning formula is said to be the following well-oiled process:

  1. Bring over 282 startups (the number in last cohort) to San Francisco for 90 days to prototype, refine the product, and land on the go-to-market strategy. This includes a pre-seed YC SAFE investment of a phased $500,000 commitment for a fixed min 7 percent of equity, plus more equity at the next round’s valuation, according to YC.
  2. Over 50 percent of the latest cohort were idea stage and heavily AI focused.
  3. Traction day: inter-portfolio traction the company. YC has over 4,000 portfolio companies who can and do sign up for each other’s companies products because “they’re told to."
  4. Get beta testers and test from YC portfolio companies and YC network.
  5. If they see the traction scales to a massively scalable business, they lead the seed round and get this: schedule and attend the VC meetings with the founders.
  6. They create a "fear of missing out" mentality on Sand Hill Road as they casually mention who they’re meeting with next.
  7. They block competitors in the sector by getting the top VC’s to co-invest with then in the seed so competitors are locked out of the A list VC funding market, who then are up against the most well-funded and buzzed about players in the space.

If what I've seen is true, within a six-month period a startup idea is prototyped, tested, pivoted, launched, tractioned, seeded, and juiced for scale with people who can ‘make’ the company all in their corner, if not already on their board.

So how on earth can Houston best this?

  1. We have a massive amount of businesses — around 200,000 — and people — an estimated 7.3 million and growing.
  2. We have capital in search of an identity beyond oil.
  3. Our Fortune 500 companies that are hiring consultants for things that startups here that can do for free, quicker, and for a fraction of the extended cost.
  4. We have a growing base of tech talent for potential machine learning and artificial intelligence talent
  5. A sudden shot at the increasingly laid off big tech engineers.
  6. We have more accelerators and incubators.

What do we need to pull it off?

  1. An organized well-oiled YC-like process
  2. An inter-Houston traction process
  3. An "Adopt a Startup" program where local companies are willing to beta test and iterate with emerging startup products
  4. We have more accelerators but the cohorts are small — average five to 10 per cohort.
  5. Strategic pre-seed funding, possibly with corporate partners (who can make the company by being a client) and who de-risk the investment.
  6. Companies here to use Houston startup’s products first when they’re launched.
  7. A forum to match companies’ projects or labs groups etc., to startups who can solve them.
  8. A process in place to pull all these pieces together in an organized, structured sequence.

There is one thing missing in the list: there has to be an entity or a person who wants to make this happen. Someone who sees all the pieces, and has the desire, energy and clout to make it happen; and we all know this is the hardest part. And so for now, our hopes of besting YC may be up in the air as well.

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Jo Clark is the founder of Circle.ooo, a Houston-based tech startup that's streamlining events management.

Velostics has raised additional funding to grow its logistics software. Photo via velostics.com

Houston startup raises nearly $2M to expand logistics SaaS platform

seed funding

A Houston company that's providing innovative unified scheduling software for the logistics industries has raised additional seed funding.

Houston-based Velostics Inc. raised $1.95 million, the company announced this week. The additional seed round follows a $2.5 million round announced in 2021. The Velostics platform optimizes scheduling for inbound and outbound trucks, saving companies money across the supply chain and resulting in fewer emissions from idling trucks.

“Scheduling is a major headache for all parties focused on reducing cost and delivering on high customer expectations — our cloud based solution is designed to go live in one day with no apps required,” Gaurav Khandelwal, founder and CEO of Velostics, says in a news release.

Houston-based Starboard Star Venture Capital led the round, and Flyover Capital and Small Ventures USA, both previous investors in Velostics, contributed too. Additionally, Mexico-based Capital Mazapil joined in as a new investor. The family office has close ties to a leading CPG company with a global footprint of manufacturing plants and distribution warehouses, per the news release.

“At a time where all costs are increasing, Velostics has a proven solution that brings real cost savings and more importantly, increased capacity to manufacturing facilities, warehouses and fuel terminals," Keith Molzer, founding partner at Flyover Capital, says in the news release.

Khandewal founded Velostics in 2019 after seeing the business opportunity through ChaiOne, a Houston software company he's run since 2009. In an episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, he shared the story of Velostics and why he thinks the city has a great opportunity to be a leader in logistics technology.

CardioOne has fresh funding and new partners, resulting in a five-state expansion. Photo via Getty Images

Houston heart health startup secures $8M in funding, announces new partnerships

cardiatric care

With fresh funding, a Houston-based health tech platform that's less than a year old has grown its United States footprint.

CardioOne, which has created a cardiology care delivery enablement platform that serves independent cardiologists, has closed an $8 million seed round of funding and secured three new partnerships. Axios and Crunchbase report that the round has closed, and CardioOne confirms the funding and new partnerships in a press release.

The company has three new partnerships with independent cardiology clinics in New Jersey, Florida, and Pennsylvania, Cardiac Associates of New Jersey, Twin Hearts LLC, and Corrieius Cardiology. The trio joins existing partner practices in Texas and Maryland.

In addition to joining forces with these practices, CardioOne has entered into a partnership with MedAxiom, which is described as being "the cardiovascular community’s premier source for organizational performance solutions," in the release.

“CardioOne is optimizing cardiology practice management and providing new options for independent cardiologists,” Joe Sasson, MedAxiom’s executive vice president of ventures and chief commercial officer, says in the news release. “With CardioOne, independent cardiology practices can access the scale and leverage typically reserved for large hospital groups and are empowered to grow through additional service lines, strong network relationships, and payor contracts, including value-based care arrangements.”

Dr. Jasen Gunderson, who's based in Denver, is the CEO and co-founder of CardioOne, which was founded last year. He explains the challenges of independent cardiologists, which includes inefficient revenue cycle tools, incomplete vendor management systems, and other tech-based and administrative obstacles — most of which CardioOne addresses.

“Inadequate and fragmented technology is at the root of many of the problems that independent cardiologists are facing today,” Gunderson says in the release. “CardioOne’s solution removes the heavy administrative burdens, empowering cardiologists to focus on their expertise and true passion – the practice of medicine without feeling forced into acquisition.”

CardioOne's mission is to continue to help cardiology practices maintain their independence while keeping up with demand, patient care, and business growth.

"Our independence and clinical autonomy has allowed our practice to provide more personalized care to our patients, but in a consolidating market... the resources and technology investments required to run a practice group today make staying independent more difficult than ever before,” Dr. John H. Lee of Cardiac Associates of North Jersey, says in the release. “CardioOne is a true collaborator, serving as an extension of our operations and allowing us to focus on doing what we love — caring for patients.”

A new innovation out of the Texas Medical Center's Biodesign Program is enhancing efficacy of a life-saving aortic aneurysm rupture procedure. Photo via Getty Images

Houston biodesign innovators ready to spin out startup with life-saving vascular tech

heartbreak healers

Yes, you can die of a broken heart — although it's not in the hyperbolic way you might be thinking. Fewer than 20 percent of people who have an aortic aneurysm rupture survive the event. But aortic aneurysms can be treated if they’re caught before they burst. A new Houston company is devoted to a novel solution to helping patients with abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA).

That company is Taurus Vascular. As part of the current class of the TMC Innovation Biodesign Program, fellows Matthew Kuhn and Melanie Lowther were tasked with creating a biomedical company in a year. The founders started their journey last August. At the end of this month, they'll be kicked out of the nest, Kuhn tells InnovationMap. Taurus is also in Rice University's 2023 cohort of OwlSpark, an ongoing summer program for startups founders from the Rice community.

Kuhn is a biomedical engineer who just scored his forty-fifth patent. The CEO says that he hit it off quickly with his co-founder and COO, Lowther, former director entrepreneurship and innovation at Texas Children’s Hospital.

Matthew Kuhn and Melanie Lowther co-founded Taurus Vascular as TMC Biodesign fellows. Photos via taurusvascular.com

Members of the Biodesign Program are paid a livable stipend to devote themselves fully to creating a pioneering company. Kuhn says that he became interested in finding a more effective way to heal AAAs during his four and a half years as a project leader at the Center for Device Innovation at the Texas Medical Center.

“It was ripe for innovation and we landed on a concept of some merit,” he says.

The current standard of care for AAAs is EVAR, or endovascular aneurysm repair, in which a surgeon inserts a stent to relieve pressure on the aneurysm.

“It used to be if you had a AAA, you had a gnarly procedure,” he says, which included a large incision across the abdomen. EVAR eliminated that, but its problem is that it often results in endoleaks. As many as 20 percent of patients need another EVAR within five years.

Taurus Vascular’s technology improves on EVAR by placing a self-deploying stent to create a drainage pathway between the high-pressure aneurysm sac and a low-pressure nearby vein — mitigating the adverse impact of endoleaks that would otherwise cause the aneurysm to continue to grow. The simple solution will allow patients to live longer, healthier lives after their procedure.

Kuhn says that being in Houston has been and will continue to be instrumental in his company’s success. Part of that, of course, is his relatively cosseted status as a founder in the Innovation Biodesign Program. But he says that the industry as a whole has become almost like a family.

“It feels very different from startup life for other industries where it feels competitive,” he explains. "You have to be a little crazy to start a medical device company and there’s a sense that we’re all in the same boat. People are so generous with their time to share resources. I feels like I have 100 co-founders."

Following the end of Taurus Vascular’s time in the program that helped conceived it, its founders will remain in the same building, continuing to work to support their technology. The next step is raising a seed round that will pay for the company’s chronic animal studies. Because Taurus Vascular is producing a Class III medical device, its approval process to get to market is the most stringent the FDA has.

The goal is to be commercial by 2030, says Kuhn. By then, Taurus Vascular will have healed many a heart.

This Houston startup has fresh funding to build out its data intelligence platform. Photo via aim7.com

Houston sportstech platform raises $1.3M seed round

fresh funding

How many times have you forced yourself to do an arduous workout when you just weren’t feeling it? Despite what some trainers will tell you, you probably didn’t feel any better after. Sports scientist Dr. Erik Korem could have told you that, but more importantly, so could his creation, AIM7.

Marketed as “the fastest, easiest way to change your habits and improve your health,” Korem just raised a $1.3 million seed round that will bring his ambitious app to consumers in its beta form early next month.

The data intelligence platform would know that on a day that you’re stressed, that Peloton tabata ride might not be in your best interest. How? “The data from your Apple Watch or your Fitbit is just data. ‘I walked 7000 steps or I slept 8 hours,’” explains Korem. “We are the recommendation engine that makes this usable for you.”

When using AIM7, there’s no sticking to a set schedule of workouts. With both short term and long term goals in mind, the technology tells you what your body needs when you need it. On a day that your health tracking device notes that you haven’t slept well and your body is stressed, Korem says, the run you had planned may be replaced by a more realistic 20 minutes of yoga.

Korem’s team member, Dr. Chris Morris coined the term “fluid periodization” and has published academic work on the concept.

“Just because you have something written on paper doesn’t mean that your body is going to adapt to that stress,” says Korem. In the sports world, that means tailoring workouts to the immediate situation — and reaping improvements in performance.

Korem should know. He’s been using this concept for years as a High Performance director for both college and professional football teams, a trainer for gold medal Olympians and even working with the United States Department of Defense. In 2016, then-GM of the Houston Texans, Rick Smith, hired Korem to work his magic on his team as one of pro football’s first directors of sports science. His time with the Texans ended in 2018, but it provided him with a key investor—Smith himself.

The $1.3 million, which Korem says AIM7 will use to hire more engineers to add to his team, owes much to his success at last month’s Houston-based Dress Up Buttercup pitch contest, Build Up Buttercup. Hosted by local fashion blogger and influencer Dede Raad and her husband, Ted, the contest gave Korem a forum to share his story.

“I didn’t quite understand the scope of it,” he admits. “I didn’t realize it was going to be this full ‘Shark Tank’ thing, but I prepared and memorized my pitch. It’s just game time, right?”

Other investors include John Jarrett of Academy Sports and Outdoors, former Cleveland Browns coach Freddie Kitchens, and Jamaican track-and-field Olympian Veronica Campbell Brown, whom Korem has trained for years.

Currently, AIM7 boasts a remote team of five full-time employees as well as many more part-time helpers. As the brand, which Korem started in 2020, takes off, Korem says, “My dream is to build a standalone health and wellness tech company in Houston… I want to set up something really special in Houston.”

Erik Korem founded AIM7, which just closed $1.3 million in seed funding. Photo via aim7.com

Tradeblock's three co-founders have known each other since childhood. Photo via tradeblock.us

Houston 'sneakerheads' raise $8.9M to further develop digital marketplace

fresh funding

A Houston-based company is kicking it with some fresh funding with plans to expand development of its marketplace platform.

Unique sneaker trading platform, Tradeblock, has raised $8.9 million in funding from investment partners Courtside VC, Trinity Ventures, and Concrete Rose Capital. Per the news release, the company expects additional funding of around $4.5 million to its seed round.

Tradeblock — founded in 2020 by self-proclaimed "sneakerheads" and childhood friends Mbiyimoh Ghogomu, Tony Malveaux, and Darren Smith — will use the fresh funding to expand and improve its digital marketplace for shoes.

"Tradeblock is revolutionizing the way forward for the new emergent asset class of footwear," says Tradeblock angel investor Jason Mayden, former Nike and Jordan footwear designer and president of Fear of God Athletics. "The founding team's understanding of the nuances of culture and tech gives them an unfair advantage in the industry and the team’s desire to lead with inclusion, representation, and authenticity also provides them with unique and meaningful organic engagement."

Over the past two years, Tradeblock has grown to have over a million shoes listed online. The team has also grown, and Tradeblock's workforce is over 80 percent people of color.

“Black and brown communities have always been the backbone of the sneaker industry and sneaker culture,” says Ghogomu, who also serves as CEO. “Showing those folks that they can be the owners and operators of this industry as opposed to just consumers is both a point of pride and a deeply rooted responsibility for everybody at Tradeblock.”

Authentication is a priority for the company, and the fresh funding will go toward further development of this type of technology within the platform.

"The market for fake sneakers is itself a billion-dollar market. If you're trying to acquire a shoe that's worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars, you need to be absolutely certain that what you're getting is the real thing," Ghogomu previously told InnovationMap.

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Houston tech platform raises series C round backed by Mastercard

money moves

Hello Alice, a fintech platform that supports 1.5 million small businesses across the country, has announced its series C round.

The amount raised was not disclosed, but Hello Alice reported that the fresh funding has brought the company's valuation to $130 million. Alexandria, Virginia-based QED Investors led the round, and investors included Mastercard, Backstage Capital, Guy Fieri, Golden Seeds, Harbert Growth Partners Fund, How Women Invest I, LP, Lovell Limited Partnership, Tyler “Ninja” and Jessica Blevins, and Tamera Mowry and Adam Housley, per a news release from the company.

“We are thrilled to hit the milestone of 1.5 million small businesses utilizing Hello Alice to elevate the American dream. There are more entrepreneurs launching this year than in the history of our country, and we will continue to ensure they get the capital needed to grow,” Elizabeth Gore and Carolyn Rodz, co-founders of Hello Alice, say in a news release. “In closing our Series C, we welcome Mastercard to our family of investors and continue to be grateful to QED, How Women Invest, and our advocates such as Guy Fieri.”

The funding will go toward expanding capital offerings and AI-driven tools for its small business membership.

“Our team focuses on finding and investing in companies that are obsessed with reducing friction and providing superior financial services solutions to their customers,” QED Investors Co-Founder Frank Rotman says in the release. “Hello Alice has proven time and time again that they are on the leading edge of providing equitable access to capital and banking services to the small business ecosystem."

Hello Alice, which closed its series B in 2021 at $21 million, has collaborated with Mastercard prior to the series C, offering small business owners the Hello Alice Small Business Mastercard in 2022 and a free financial wellness tool, Business Health Score, last year. Mastercard also teamed up with other partners for the the Equitable Access Fund in 2023.

“With Hello Alice, we’re investing to provide support to small business owners as they look to access capital, helping to address one of the most cited business challenges they face,” Ginger Siegel, Mastercard's North America Small Business Lead, adds. “By working together to simplify access to the products and services they need when building and growing their business, we’re helping make a meaningful impact on the individuals who run their businesses, the customers they serve, and our communities and economy at large.”

While Hello Alice's founders' mission is to help small businesses, their own company was threatened by a lawsuit from America First Legal. The organization, founded by former Trump Administration adviser Stephen Miller and features a handful of other former White House officials on its board, is suing Hello Alice and its partner, Progressive Insurance. The lawsuit alleges that their program to award10 $25,000 grants to Black-owned small businesses constitutes racial discrimination. Gore calls the lawsuit frivolous in an interview on the Houston Innovators Podcast. The legal battle is ongoing.

Inspired by the lawsuit, Hello Alice launched the Elevate the American Dream, a grant program that's highlighting small businesses living out their American dreams. The first 14 grants have already been distributed, and Hello Alice plans to award more grants over the next several weeks, putting their grant funding at over $40 million.


NASA awards $30M to Houston space tech company to develop lunar rover

moon rider

Houston-based space technology company Intuitive Machines has landed a $30 million NASA contract for the initial phase of developing a rover for U.S. astronauts to traverse the moon’s surface.

Intuitive Machines is one of three companies chosen by NASA to perform preliminary work on building a lunar terrain vehicle that would enable astronauts to travel on the moon’s surface so they can conduct scientific research and prepare for human missions to Mars.

The two other companies are Golden, Colorado-based Lunar Outpost and Hawthorne, California-based Astrolab.

NASA plans to initially use the vehicle for its Artemis V lunar mission, which aims to put two astronauts on the moon. It would be the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972 that astronauts would step foot on the lunar surface.

The Artemis V mission, tentatively set for 2029, will be the fifth mission under NASA’s Artemis program.

“This vehicle will greatly increase our astronauts’ ability to explore and conduct science on the lunar surface while also serving as a science platform between crewed missions,” says Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Intuitive Machines says the $30 million NASA contract represents its entrance into human spaceflight operations for the space agency’s $4.6 billion moon rover project. The vehicle — which Intuitive Machines has dubbed the Moon Reusable Autonomous Crewed Exploration Rover (RACER) — will be based on the company’s lunar lander.

“Our global team is on a path to provide essential lunar infrastructure services to NASA in a project that would allow [us] to retain ownership of the vehicle for commercial utilization during periods of non-NASA activity over approximately 10 years of lunar surface activity,” says exploration,” says Steve Altemus, CEO of Intuitive Machines.

Intuitive Machines’ partners on the RACER project include AVL, Boeing, Michelin, and Northrop Grumman.

Intuitive Machines plans to bid on the second phase of the rover project after finishing its first-phase feasibility study. The second phase will involve developing, delivering, and operating the rover.

In February, Intuitive Machines became the first private company to land a spacecraft on the moon with no crewmembers aboard. NASA was the key customer for that mission.

Houston expert: How to avoid 'ghost hiring' while attracting top talent

guest column

One of the latest HR terms grabbing attention today is “ghost hiring.” This is a practice where businesses post positions online, even interviewing candidates, with no intention to fill them. In fact, the role may already have been filled or it may not exist.

Usually, an applicant applies for the job, yet never hears back. However, they may be contacted by the recruiter, only to learn the offer is revoked or a recruiter ghosts them after a first-round interview.

Applicants who are scouring job sites for the ideal position can become discouraged by ghost hiring. Employers do not usually have any ill intentions of posting ghost jobs and talking with candidates. Employers may have innocently forgotten to take down the listing after filling the position.

Some employers may leave positions up to expand their talent pool. While others who are open to hiring new employees, even if they do not match the role, may practice ghost hiring when they want a pool of applicants to quickly pull from when the need arises. Finally, some employers post job roles to make it look like the company is experiencing growth.

When employers participate in ghost hiring practices, job candidates can become frustrated, hurting the employer brand and, thus, future recruiting efforts. Even with the tight labor market and employee turnover, it is best not to have an evergreen posting if there is no intention to hire respondents.

There are several ways employers can engage candidates and, likewise, build a talent pool without misleading job seekers.

Network

A recruiter at their core is a professional networker. This is a skill that many have honed through the years, and it continues to evolve through social media channels. While many recruiters lean on social media, you should not discount meeting people face-to-face. There is power in promoting your organization at professional meetings, alumni groups and civic organizations. Through these avenues, many potential candidates will elect for you to keep them in mind for future opportunities.

Employee Referrals

When recruiters want to deepen their talent pool, they cannot discount the employee referral. Simply letting employees know and clearly stating the exploratory nature of the conversation can lead to stellar results. Employees understand the organization, its culture and expectations, so they are more likely to refer the company to someone who would be a good fit and reflect highly on them.

Alternative Candidates

In recent years, organizations and recruiters are more dialed into skills-first recruiting practices. Creating job postings that emphasize the skill sets needed rather than the years of experience, specific college degree or previous job titles, can yield a crop of candidates who may be more agile and innovative than others. Fostering relationships with people who fit unique skills needed within the organization can help you develop a deeper bench of candidates.

Contingent Workforce

Part-time workers, freelancers, and independent contractors are a great way to build connections and the talent pool. These workers and their skills are known entities, plus they know the organization, which makes them valuable candidates for open roles. If their expertise is needed on a regular basis, it is easier to have open conversations about a potential expansion of their duties or offer full-time work.

Internal Talent

Human resources and recruiters need to work with managers and leadership to intimately know what kind of talent lies within their own organization. Current employees may have the strengths, skills, and capabilities to fill new positions or roles. Through conversations with employees and their managers, you can identify who can flex different skills, but even more importantly, the ambition to grow within the company.

In every instance, it is crucial for recruiters and hiring managers to be transparent in their intentions. Communicating within your network that you are always looking for great talent to fill future roles sets the tone. When communicating with candidates, whether there is a pressing job opportunity or not, be clear from the onset regarding your intentions for hire. With a transparent approach to hiring and candidate development, you will keep the employer brand intact and maintain recruiting power.

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Jaune Little is a director of recruiting services with Insperity.