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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trivie has closed a $5 million investment round led by Houston-based Cottonwood Venture Partners. Photo via Trivie.com

Houston investment firm leads Texas startup's $5M series A round

money moves

A Texas-based tech startup that has created an artificial intelligence-enabled tool that gamifies corporate training and education has closed its most recent funding round thanks to a Houston investor.

Trivie as announced its $5 million series A investment round led by Houston-based Cottonwood Venture Partners, an investment firm that has a portfolio of technology companies that are providing digital solutions within the energy industry. Trivie will use the new funds to scale its product and expand across industries, from energy and manufacturing to hospitality, healthcare, consumer goods, and more.

"The Trivie team's success to date has been remarkable and we are humbled to partner with them to expand Trivie's reach as organizations increasingly look to maximize knowledge retention, particularly as it relates to health and safety," says Jeremy Arendt, managing partner of CVP, in a news release.

Now, as more employees are working from home than ever before, relevant training is crucial and at the top of mind for business leaders. Trivie's clients include Subway, Phillips66, Anheuser-Busch, to name a few.

"At Trivie, our mission is to ensure that every employee at every organization can be at their very best because what they have been taught, they remember, and what they have said is understood," says Lawrence Schwartz, CEO, and co-founder at Trivie, in a news release. "We are extremely excited to partner with Cottonwood Venture Partners to help us expand our footprint in the Fortune 1000 and to continue to execute on that mission."

One of Trivie's founders, Leland Putterman, who is based in Houston, first had the idea for a consumer-facing trivia game 18 years ago. When the app rolled out in 2013, it garnered more than three million downloads. As COVID-19 has brought new compliance guidelines to the forefront of every industry, Trivie was quick to make the CDC's coronavirus guidelines available to all of its clients for no additional charge to be used across their entire employment bases.

Additionally, Trivie prioritizing its user's ability to connect in a time of social distancing and working from home.

"The only way to maintain that company culture and close communication with confidence is to use something like Trivie," Putterman previously tells InnovationMap. "There's no feedback loop right now. The only way to bridge that gap is to have something like Trivie that's the glue."

A Houston startup has launched to keep an eye on your AC to predict and prevent outages and issues. Photo courtesy of SmartAC.com

Houston home tech startup emerges from stealth with $10M series A round

smart home

It can get hot as Hades in Houston during the summer, and a new Houston startup is using machine learning and technology to ensure that users can count on their air conditioning units to stay up and running during the heat.

Houston-based SmartAC.com has emerged from stealth mode with $10 million in funding from a series A investment round. The company's technology focuses on maintaining air conditioning and heating (HVAC) health before a major service issue occurs.

"Over 70 million homes have central air in the U.S., making indoor comfort a regular way of life. People don't often think about their HVAC systems, taking it for granted, until the day the AC or heat goes out," says Josh Teekell, CEO and founder of SmartAC.com, in a news release. "These systems require regular upkeep, and when they aren't maintained, costs can get out of hand. SmartAC.com's offer is simple; we care about your AC so you don't have to."

The company's technology combines three hardware sensors — which users can install themselves — and machine learning software to analyze data to predict service issues. The comfort sensor monitors the temperature of the air coming out of the unit, the filter sensor tracks the lifespan of air filters by tracking pressure and airflow, and the water sensor protects against leaks and clogs.


The three SmartAC.com sensors are magnetic and easy to install. Photo courtesy of SmartAC.com

All three sensors are linked by SmartAC.com Hub, which sends data from the sensors to the cloud and the SmartAC.com app to translate the data into recommendations to help users reduce costs and get ahead of issues.

"The average AC replacement cost is $7,500 — an expense that can be a huge burden on homeowners. Caring for these assets is inconvenient and oftentimes confusing, resulting in 80 percent of homeowners skipping the recommended maintenance on their AC systems," says Andrew Fuselier, SmartAC.com's COO, in a news release. "It's time to digitize the AC ownership experience to solve a decades old problem. SmartAC.com was formed in stealth mode with feedback from thousands of homeowners, so we're thrilled to finally show the world what we've built."

In addition to working directly with consumers, SmartAC.com has teamed up with HVAC service providers.

"SmartAC.com is a total game-changer," says David Lewis of Mission AC in a news release. "Our clients love the additional transparency and the technology allows us to improve our service speed and quality because, for the first time, we have real-time data on the systems we service."

The data from the sensors is analyzed and sent to users via the smart phone app. Photo courtesy of SmartAC.com

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.
Houston-based Liongard has fresh funds thanks to a $4.5 million round. Getty Images

Houston SaaS startup closes $4.5 million Series A round of funding

Must be the money

A Houston startup has something to roar about. Information Technology automation and management company, Liongard, has closed its latest round of funding at $4.5 million.

The Series A round was lead by TDF Ventures, a software, infrastructure and services fund that has a presence in Washington D.C. and Silicon Valley. Currently, the fund is investing from its $150M Fund IV. Other Liongard investors include ‎Integr8d Capital, Gestalt Theory Venture Partners, Richard Yoo (the Founder of Rackspace Managed Hosting), and others.

The fresh funds will allow for the company to ramp up the development of its Roar platform — a software product that creates a single dashboard for all data systems including the Cloud and apps, server networks, and on-site systems to make accessing and protecting the data easier. The funds will also go toward improving and expanding account management capabilities.

"This investment will help us accelerate development and integrations to create additional visibility across the varied technology stacks that MSPs [or, managed service provider] support," says Joe Alapat, CEO of Liongard, in a release. "Our true goal is to support MSPs across the entire client journey — automating onboarding, documentation, and insight that speeds up issue resolution — unleashing teams to operate at 10X."

The SaaS company has grown its clientbase since its 2015 launch. In spring of 2018, Liongard closed its Seed Stage round of its capital campaign at $1.3 million in investments. With these initial funds, Liongard was able to put Roar on the market in April 2018 and expand its client base — growing from two clients to now close to 200 customers in less than a year.

"Liongard is in a strategic and unique position to disrupt the way MSPs operate and manage IT for their clients," says Jim Pastoriza, managing partner of TDF Ventures, in a release. "We're looking forward to a partnership with a great team building a product that will revolutionize the MSP industry."

Alapat, who runs his company out of Station Houston, told InnovationMap in March that he had a goal for the round to raise between $3 million and $4 million, and said he thinks the company has been received well by Houston investors because Liongard offers a product that other IT management companies don't.

"No one has a unified way to look across the Cloud and network and apps and services and servers," Alapat

says. "There's plenty of different dashboards and solutions that looks at one or two of those things, but there's no single solution that consolidates all of that. That's what makes us different — that we unify all of that under one umbrella."

Following a $7 million raise, Houston-based GoCo is looking to grow. Courtesy of GoCo

Houston B-to-B tech startup gears up for growth following $7 million Series A

Serious series

A Houston startup looking to digitize the human resources industry just completed a reassuring round of funding. GoCo closed its Series A funding round led by ATX Seed Ventures alongside UpCurve, Inc. at $7 million.

GoCo, which was founded by CEO Nir Leibovich, Chief Technology Officer Jason Wang, and Chief Product Officer Michael Gugel, is out to bring the much-maligned HR tasks into the digital world. The funding round brings GoCo's total funding to $12.5 million. Leibovich said the new capital will be allocated to hiring across all departments, further platform development to extend the breadth of offerings and to broadly expand the company's customer base.

"Today, we have 6,200 customers across the U.S. and around the world," Leibovich tells InnovationMap. "And we have 25 employees. We're looking to double and triple — if not quadruple — that across 2019."

The company has a solid partnership network with employee benefit insurance agencies like OneDigital and PayneWest, and general agencies like Word & Brown, to offer GoCo's technology as an enhancement to their existing insurance benefits services clients. GoCo also auto-syncs with leading payroll providers ADP, PayChex, Paylocity, Intuit Quickbooks and more, thus uniquely enabling businesses to maintain their benefits broker and payroll provider by integrating with GoCo's platform.

"This Series A and the potential addition of UpCurve's distribution channel to reach hundreds-of-thousands of new customers continues our mission to free SMBs and HR professionals from outdated and tedious administrative burdens. When these professionals look at current HR and benefits solutions on the market and think 'there must be a better way,' we are the better way," says Leibovich. "We want to be synonymous with modern and streamlined HR."

GoCo is backed by additional investments from Salesforce Ventures, Corp Strategics, GIS Strategic Ventures, the venture arm of Guardian Life Insurance, and Digital Insurance, the largest employee benefits-only company in the US. ATX Seed Ventures is investing for the second time.

"We are doubling down on our investment in GoCo, as it is positioned to become the platform of choice for HR professionals to break out of the chains of outdated and complex HR duties, and empowers them to spend more time on their employees and higher value tasks," says Chris Shonk, managing partner at ATX Seed Ventures, in a release. "GoCo is simply the best platform solution to do all this, and their increasing customer base supports it."

Founded in 2015, GoCo is the fusion of modern, paperless HR functions like employee onboarding, secure cloud-storage document management, eSignature workflows, time-off tracking and HR data reporting. As well, it is paired with simplified benefits enrollment and management, payroll sync and HR compliance enablement. The web and mobile based app empower employers to give employees 24/7 access to the full spectrum of a company's HR and benefits offerings.

GoCo creates platforms to onboard employees, conduct training and myriad HR tasks which, said Leibovich, free up HR personnel to handle the business of actually working with employees to grow their potential and assist companies with their missions.

"Typically, HR has lagged behind when it comes to embracing technology," says Leibovich. "Sales, marketing, development, these are places where it's become the norm to seek out tech solutions to problems. With human resources, many firms are still using that paperwork model, and often, a new hire's first day on the job – and therefore their first impression of a company — is filling out forms."

Leibovich had founded two companies before, one based in analytics that they sold to Zinga, the other a biotech firm. It was the biotech venture that brought the Austin-based trio to Houston. Looking around the landscape, Leibovich said he and his partners liked the fact that Houston was a city on the move, with a highly skilled workforce and companies keen on finding tech solutions to their challenges. The city's "if you can dream it, you can do it here" vibe kept the group here as they launched GoCo. Leibovich said he thinks that, in terms of its startup ventures, Houston is where Austin was 10 years ago. And he believes that continued successes in the tech and startup culture will breed more success in the Bayou City.

"This is an ecosystem that is coming together to attract even more talent for ventures like this," he said. "Funding is going to ramp up, and we see Houston as a place where we — and other companies — can create something really special. This is a great place to do business."

All-in-one platform

Courtesy of GoCo

GoCo is the fusion of modern, paperless HR functions like employee onboarding, secure cloud-storage document management, eSignature workflows, time-off tracking and HR data reporting.

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These are the events to attend each day during the Houston Tech Rodeo 2021

where to be

For the second year, Houston Exponential has tapped into the Houston innovation ecosystem to coordinate a week of events to speak to the city's startups, investors, and startup development organizations.

Houston Tech Rodeo will feature over 160 events between May 16 to 23 both online and all across town. From panels and meetups to office hours and pitch events, there's a lot to navigate in the second annual week. For a complete list of Tech Rodeo events (most of which are free), head to the website.

Here are the events you should make sure not to miss. (InnovationMap is a partner for the event.)

Note: You must register for HTR to be able to register for each event. For that reason, the event pages aren't linked directly. Find the information for each event through the HTR event website under the agenda tab, then sort by the day to find the specific event.

Monday: Gettin' in the Game with Master P: A Fireside Chat

The second annual Houston Tech Rodeo kicks off with hip-hop mogul, actor, producer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, Percy (Master P) Miller on Monday, May 17, at 8 pm. "Gettin' In the Game with Master P" will be an exclusive fireside chat with the legend himself, interviewed by A-List Angels author and former Forbes editor, Zack O'Malley Greenburg. Hear about Master P's journey going from an international rap artist to a CEO, avid investor, and founder of Nemesis RR-- adding diversity in the automotive industry and empowering a culture of dreamers.

The event is free and available online. Register online.

Other Monday online events not to miss:

  • 11 am — HTX: Building a Thriving & Inclusive Innovation Ecosystem — join leaders from across the region's startup ecosystem, including Halliburton Labs, DivInc and The Ion, as they discuss how Houston has become a thriving hub for digital technology while fostering a culture of inclusive innovation.
  • 3 pm — All Roads Lead to Houston - Cross Industry Collaboration, the Intersection of Innovation — this event will focus on the "how" rather than "why", systemic barriers to collaboration, and available resources to analyze, de-risk and solve technology problems through meaningful collaboration.

Tuesday: Unleashing Innovation for Resilience in Disaster and Risk Mitigation

Tired of the hurricanes, snow and ice, COVID and just about every other disaster affecting Houstonian's businesses, homes, communities? Join risk mitigation experts for an in-person and virtual panel on May 18 at 2 pm. The panelists will address how Greater Houston becomes an innovation hub for pre-disaster and risk mitigation across droughts and floods, spills and leaks, fires and explosions, health and pandemics...and engages diverse populations for inclusion as entrepreneurs and mitigated locations.

The event is free and available online. Register online.

Other Tuesday online events not to miss:

  • 11:30 am — Demystifying Med Tech & Digital Health InvestmentsAttend this event to learn from the experts on what investors are seeking in digital health and med tech.
  • Noon — Made in Houston: Building Houston's Digital FutureHouston is on a mission to lead the way in digital transformation. How governments and corporations should accelerate the use of tech solutions and services while balancing the concerns of individuals on the adoption of such tools?
  • 5 pm (hybrid) — HTX Sports Tech: Panel & Happy Hour — HTX Sports Tech is hosting an in-person and online happy hour discussion between Houston's esports and sports industry leaders as we'll discuss the landscape of the esports and sports tech industry, share ideas on the role the industry can impact Houston's developing tech ecosystem, and opportunities to shape the future of the industry through innovative and collaborative efforts.

Wednesday: How Will Innovation Create a Diverse Rising Tide Within Houston's Ecosystem?

Houston is building a thriving innovation ecosystem, but innovation itself won't advance diverse economic prosperity given the status quo. So the question is…how will Houston leverage the city's biggest asset — its diversity — to maximize our potential? Panelists discuss at the online event on May 19 at 11 am.

The event is free and available online. Register online.

Other Wednesday online events not to miss:

  • 11 am — The Big Deal with EsportsDid an esports tournament really sell out the Staples Center? Did the winner of the Fortnite World Cup really make more than Tiger Woods in the Masters? Is esports really bigger than Major League Baseball? Join the discussion on how esports is transforming the business of competitive entertainment.
  • 3 pm — How 3D Printing Can Transform Houston's Manufacturing LandscapeJoin Houston 3D printing experts as they discuss the changing manufacturing landscape of the city and highlight the importance of innovation, economic impact, and sustainability through the adoption of industrial 3D printing technologies.
  • 4 pm — Rice Business Entrepreneurship Association Presents: Throw Your Wild Idea into the Arena First Pitch Competition Have you identified a problem space and a tech-enabled potential solution? The Rice Business Entrepreneurship Association wants to hear your early-stage wild idea. Come make your 90 second pitch and seek advisors, team members, and helpful feedback on your concept. Submit your info here.

Thursday: Female Founders' Tough Lessons Learned

Have an idea for a startup, already launched and building your startup, or just want to hear from those who've already been there? Join a powerhouse panel of female startup founders on May 20 at 9:30 am. Listen as the panelists share their journey and entrepreneurial struggles, and what it really takes to launch and run a startup.

The event is free and available online. Register online.

Other Thursday online events not to miss:

  • 11 am — BORN GLOBAL — Houston Tech Rodeo's International track will offer thoughtful discussions on the hour beginning at 11 am with a keynote.
  • 2 pm — Creating Space (and Tech) for DiversityA diverse panel of experts in space and technology will speak on their experience in these fields.

Friday: $50k Houston Investment Challenge

The Capital Factory challenge will occur on May 21 at Houston Tech Rodeo in partnership with Houston Exponential and will feature five technology startup finalists from greater Houston that will be evaluated by a panel of successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. One will walk away with a $50,000 investment.

The event is free and available online. Register online.

Other Friday online events not to miss:

  • 11 am — FemTech Panel — Join a virtual discussion with femtech leaders brought to you by FemTech Focus.
  • 1 pm — Innovation at Scale: Boosting Climatetech and Clean Energy Startups — Join Greentown Labs Houston for a virtual panel on incubating and supporting clean energy startups. The panel, featuring leaders from the regional climatetech innovation ecosystem and moderated by Greentown Houston Launch Director Juliana Garaizar, will discuss how to best set up startups for success and scale.

4 Houston companies clock in among America’s best employers, says Inc.

happy workers

Houston has already been heralded as a hotbed for innovation. Now, a handful of local companies are in the spotlight as the best places to work.

Four Houston companies are among 429 businesses named May 12 to Inc. magazine's 2021 list of the country's best workplaces. They are:

  • Marketing and PR firm CKP, Houston.
  • Environmental restoration company Ecosystem Planning and Restoration, Tomball.
  • IT automation platform Liongard, Houston.
  • Online recruiting service WizeHire, Houston.

"We've taken steps, especially during the pandemic, to build an amazing team and inclusive culture that is rooted in collaboration," Liongard CEO Joe Alapat says in a news release. "I am proud every day of the work this team is doing and the positive impact we're having on the managed services industry, and thrilled that our employees share our excitement and enthusiasm."

Meanwhile, 11 Austin companies receiving kudos are:

  • 9Gauge Partners, a business management consulting firm.
  • AgileAssets, a provider of transportation management software.
  • AlertMedia, an emergency communication and monitoring platform.
  • Decent, a provider of health insurance.
  • Fourlane, a provider of QuickBooks support.
  • Made In Cookware, an e-commerce startup that sells pots, pans, and other cookware.
  • Mighty Citizen, a branding, marketing, and communications firm.
  • OJO Labs, a platform for buying and selling homes.
  • Ontic, a company whose software helps companies address physical threats.
  • Q1Media, a digital media company.
  • The Zebra, an insurance marketplace.

Nick Soman, founder and CEO of Decent, says his company seeks to trust, respect, and appreciate every employee.

"This year that has meant quickly helping employees who lost power during an unprecedented snowstorm find a warm place to stay and offering unlimited time off," Soman says in a news release. "Being recognized as a top workplace is a special honor for Decent. Our people are at the heart of our company. They foster our amazing culture and drive our consistently outstanding customer service."

Lukas Quanstrom, CEO of Ontic, says his company is committed to upholding the core values, standards, and practices that contributed to the Inc. honor.

"Over the past year, the Ontic team has experienced rapid growth reinforcing how important our supportive, entrepreneurial culture is to nurturing talent and prioritizing our employees' overall welfare," Quanstrom says in a news release.

Each nominated company took part in an employee survey, conducted by Quantum Workplace, on topics including management effectiveness, perks, and employee growth. Also, an organization's benefits were audited to help determine the employer's standing.

Elsewhere in Texas, seven Dallas-Fort Worth employers, four Houston-area employers, and one San Antonio employer made the Inc. list.

Dallas-Fort Worth area

  • Staffing and recruiting firm BridgeWork Partners, Dallas.
  • Commercial real estate services company esrp, Frisco.
  • Staffing agency Frontline Source Group, Dallas.
  • PR and marketing firm Idea Grove, Dallas.
  • HVAC and plumbing warranty company JB Warranties, Argyle.
  • Technical consulting firm Stratosphere Consulting, Dallas.
  • NetSuite consulting firm The Vested Group, Plano.

Inc. highlights esrp's employee emergency fund, which offers "a financial lifeline for a range of life events, including funerals, medical emergencies, and welcoming new grandchildren. The omnipresent resource is funded through anonymous employee donations."

San Antonio

The only San Antonio company to make the 2021 list was IT services provider Mobius Partners.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.