Houston-based Welligence Energy Analytics specializes in data and intelligence for the oil and gas markets, greenhouse gas emissions sector, and CCUS projects. Photo via Getty Images

A group of investors has chipped in $41 million to purchase a minority stake in Houston-based Welligence Energy Analytics, a provider of energy data and intelligence.

Boston-based venture capital firm Elephant Partners led the series B round, with participation from Veriten, a Houston-based, energy-focused research, investing, and strategy firm, and EDG, a Metairie, Louisiana-based energy consulting firm. Several executives from the energy, information services, and software sectors also contributed to the round.

Founded in 2016, Welligence specializes in data and intelligence for the oil and gas markets, greenhouse gas emissions sector, and carbon capture, storage, and utilization (CCUS) projects. Clients include major oil and gas companies, as well as large investment banks.

“Our team is proud of the growth we’ve achieved over the last six years. The foundation of Welligence has now been built. We have a world-class team, a robust database and platform, and a brand recognized globally in our industry,” Welligence co-founder and CEO Ross Lubetkin says in a news release. “Raising significant capital from some of the market’s most sophisticated investors with a proven track record is a pivotal step towards realizing the Welligence vision — to solidify our presence as a leading global energy research house.”

Welligence says it will use the funding to beef up its product offerings, expand its geographic data capabilities, and enter new energy research verticals. The company has employees and clients in North America, Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East, and it plans to open more global offices.

“We have been extremely impressed by the Welligence team and product and are excited by the scalability of the platform. Through the company’s use of new technology, ideas, and methodologies, Welligence continues to take market share in a space traditionally monopolized by a few legacy players,” says Christopher De Souza, a partner at Elephant. “Welligence’s global energy database positions it well for expansion into new frontiers.”

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Kahuna CEO Jai Shah shares how he plans on deploying the $21 million his Houston company just raised. Photo courtesy of Kahuna

Houston HR tech platform plans to grow team, expand internationally with recent $21M raise

big kahuna

With a recent $21 million series B funding round set to fuel more growth and expand an impressive client roster, Kahuna Workforce Solutions is riding a big wave into 2024.

CEO Jai Shah tells InnovationMap that the Houston skills management software service company’s Hawaiian name captures their style.

“Kahuna is that kind of expert, competent leader in a tribe or family,” Jai says. “That’s all because we had this concept of really wanting to be providing a very..family-oriented consulting approach. Treat our customers like family, and with respect, love and really just try and deliver on that promise.”

For Shah, Kahuna represents a natural progression, and grew out of his first startup, Hula Partners, a Houston consulting company acquired by GP Strategies Corp. in 2017.

Shah says his initial work in human resource technology transformation for energy giants like Marathon Oil exposed the poor functionality of HR software, especially for employees. The very technology that has revolutionized the workplace has often not met the needs of many American workers, even as they face more demands on their time.

“We saw a need in the marketplace, relative to the consulting, where technology really wasn’t filling the gap,” says Shah, who now lives in San Diego.

Kahuna’s skills management software service bridges that gap, enabling employees train and grow within their field, and employers to track and monitor their progress in key competencies.

Whether it’s a nurse assessing a patient, or a worker turning a wrench properly on an oil rig, employers observe those skills and record them in Kahuna’s software.

“What Kahuna does, is give the organization a lot more confidence in their ability to have these workers do their jobs,” Shah says.

Those frontline workers drive the company’s ethos. “That workforce is super key to the economy, and it’s really been undeserved by technology for many years. That’s why we exist,” says Shah.

Kahuna caught the attention of Baltimore, Maryland-based Resolve Growth Partners, which chose Kahuna as the first investment in their second funding group with the series B. Kahuna’s series A funding came from venture capital group Houston Ventures.

Chip Davis, of Houston Ventures, who remains a key figure in Kahuna, says he experienced his “Eureka moment” when he saw how Kahuna could solve a problem that he witnessed firsthand in another company. He had another investment client in the oil industry, that had tons of data, but didn’t know what to do with it. He saw that Kahuna provides a way.

“The type of data that Kahuna developed, is not easy to develop,” Davis says. “It knows not that just that you went to college; it knows how well you did, and it knows how well you’re doing now, and it knows why you’re doing well now."

Shah says Kahuna’s ability to leverage that granular data sets the company apart from other HR applications. And that technology may even extend to the future workforce.

Memorial Hermann, a new customer, is in discussions with Kahuna to implement its software early in the journey for nursing candidates, in secondary education curriculum.

Students as young as seventh grade who aspire to a nursing career, could use Kahuna software to find out what skills they’ll need, and keep

Shah says the funds from Resolve, divided in two tranches, will help grow his staff of 50 employees by 30 percent. He also says he plans three or four major initiatives in product development, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning and developing new software modules.

The company will remain headquartered at its Houston office on upper Kirby, but plans are underway to expand operations in about a year into Northern Europe, where many energy clients do business.

Kahuna will maintain growth with a laser focus on frontline workers, Shah says, and solidify its position as a category leader in the energy, manufacturing, and health care verticals.

“A lot of these companies are being challenged in more technically tough environments,” he says. “We’re drilling for oil in deeper and deeper ocean centers. Nurses are asked to do more these days than they were five years ago, or 10 years ago.”

Kahuna’s move upmarket may bring challenges common to companies making that same progression, with a more sophisticated buying process and the scrutiny that comes with it.

“An upmarket customer wants to know how you can support them. They’re going to examine you, in a way you’re not used to being examined,” Davis says.

Allganize recently closed a $20 million series B round of funding, bringing its total amount raised to $35 million. Graphic via allganize.ai

Houston AI company raises $35M, plans for Japanese IPO

fresh funding

A Houston tech startup with an artificial intelligence technology has announced it's raised two rounds of funding as it plans to continue developing its product and IPO in Japan.

Allganize recently closed a $20 million series B round of funding, bringing its total amount raised to $35 million, according to the company. Allganize developed Alli, an all-in-one platform for enabling large language models, that's used by over 200 enterprise and public companies globally, including Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, Nomura Securities, Hitachi, Fujitsu, and KB Securities.

The funding will go toward expanding corporate-specific LLM app markets and expanding enterprise automation AI in the United States, Korea, and Japan. The company has a goal of listing on the Japanese Stock Exchange by 2025.

"This investment accelerates our journey towards global expansion and achieving a milestone of listing on the Japanese stock exchange by 2025. Our focus is on leveraging LLMs to revolutionize work productivity. We are dedicated to empowering companies to develop custom LLM applications, enabling practical tasks execution and work automation,” Changsu Lee, CEO of Allganize, says in a news release.

In the latest round, InterVest and Murex Partners joined existing investors ATINUM Investment and Stonebridge Ventures.

"Allganize's generative AI-based services have garnered acclaim for their technological excellence and practicality among global financial firms. We foresee substantial revenue growth following this investment," Kang Dong-min, vice president of Murex, says in the release.

Allganize was founded in 2017 in California and has offices in Houston, Seoul, and Tokyo. The company's customers range from the insurance and financial services to oil and gas, construction, and more.

Kahuna Workforce Solutions, which provides HR software solutions, announced it has closed a $21 million series B. Photo via Getty Images

Houston software company with HR solutions raises $21M series B

money moves

A Houston company with a software platform to enhance skills management operations has raised its series B.

Kahuna Workforce Solutions announced it has closed a $21 million series B funding round led by Baltimore-based Resolve Growth Partners. Kahuna's platform provides its users — which come the from health care, energy, field service, and manufacturing industries — with effective assessment, training and development, and staffing and deployment initiatives.

“We are thrilled to work with Resolve as Kahuna begins the next growth phase. Their expertise in enterprise software, and commitment to innovation and continuous improvement fully aligns with our mission, vision, and goals for Kahuna,” Jai Shah, CEO of Kahuna Workforce Solutions, says in a news release. “This funding fuels our ability to provide mission-critical skills management solutions and support as we revolutionize how organizations manage and optimize workforce skills and capabilities.”

The software-as-a-service company will use the fresh funding to continue product development and hire across sales and marketing, product development, customer success, and engineering. The company also will grow to support global customers.

“Kahuna stands out as a category leader. They offer best-in-class skills management software and create true partnerships with customers to achieve transformative business value and operational outcomes,” Jit Sinha, co-founder and partner at Resolve Growth Partners, adds.

“Kahuna’s extensive understanding of market needs positions them uniquely in this space. Our investment is a testament to the confidence we have in Kahuna to continue leading and offering unparalleled solutions to meet the evolving needs of customers globally,” Sinha continues.

Shah, who's based in San Diego, founded the company in 2018. The company lists several of its customers on its website, including bp, GE Renewable Energy, Memorial Hermann, and more.

It's payday for a startup that's improving analytics for its energy customers. Photo via Getty Images

Energy tech startup secures $20M series B, plans to expand platform

money moves

A Houston startup has raised $20 million in its latest round of funding in order to accelerate its energy analytics and grid decarbonization technology.

Amperon Holdings Inc. announced today that it closed its series B round at $20 million. Energize Capital led the round and the D. E. Shaw group, Veriten, and HSBC Asset Management, an existing investor, joined in on the round. Additionally, two of Amperon's early customers, Ørsted and another strategic utility partner, participated in the series B, which brought Amperon’s total funding to $30 million.

The fresh funding will support the company in evolving its platform that conducts electricity demand forecasting to a comprehensive data analytics solution. Amperon's solution has an opportunity to really impact the industry's "increasingly turbulent power grids worldwide" among climate change and rapid adoption of variable energy resources, like wind and solar, the company explains in a news release about its raise.

“The energy transition is creating unprecedented market volatility, and Amperon is uniquely positioned to help market participants better navigate the transitioning grid – both in the U.S. and as we expand globally,” Sean Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Amperon, says in the release. “We've already established ourselves as the premier provider of electricity demand forecasting software. With this funding, we are poised to leverage our cutting-edge AI models to enable customers to unlock more value from data and asset optimization, spanning from on-site solar to commercial load management with backup generation and microgrid deployment.”

With the round, Energize Capital Partner Tyler Lancaster joins the Amperon board of directors.

“Today’s electricity grid is facing uniquely modern challenges as we work to rapidly transform our energy assets and decarbonize our economy,” he says in the release. “To facilitate the energy transition – a multitrillion-dollar market opportunity — we need more software tools custom-built to handle the complexities of our evolving energy markets.

"Amperon’s AI-powered analytics platform is exactly that, providing the accuracy and sophistication necessary for energy players across the value chain to manage their energy use and streamline our collective pathway to net-zero," he continues. "After getting to know Sean and the Amperon team since inception, Energize is thrilled to officially partner with them as a lead investor in this funding.”

In the past two years, Amperon reports that it grew revenue by five times, as well as quadrupled its team. The company was founded in 2017 and raised its $7 million series A last year.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Josh Teekell, founder and CEO of SmartAC.com, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the latest from his company, which just closed its series B. Photo courtesy

Podcast: Houston home tech startup raises $22M to grow sales

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 184

A Houston startup that combines unique sensor technology with software analysis has raised its next round of funding to — according to Founder and CEO Josh Teekell — turbocharge its sales.

SmartAC.com launched in 2020, emerging from stealth with $10 million raised in a series A. Over the past almost three years, the company has firmed up its hardware, developed its software, and pivoted slightly from selling directly to consumers to adopting a B2B approach.

The company's sensors can monitor all aspects of air conditioning units and report back any issues, meaning homeowners have quicker and less costly repairs. While SmartAC.com started with providing the service and tech to homeowners directly, Teekell says he's had a greater interest in working with plumbers and HVAC companies who then deploy the technology to their customers.

"It became quite evident that homeowners don't care about air conditioning really at all until their system breaks," Teekell says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The technology is really built around giving those contractors as another way to gain a customer relationship and keep it."

Now, Teekell says he's focused on turbocharging sales to these contractors, and he's going to do that with the funding raised in the series B round that closed this month. He says the company will also grow its team that goes out to deploy the technology and train the contractors on the platform.

"This funding really buys us a couple years of runway through the end of next year and allows us to focus on getting to cash flow breakeven, which is right around our wheelhouse of our abilities here in the next 12 months," Teekell says. "In general, we've accomplished everything we'd be able to accomplish on the hardware side, and now it's just about deployment."

The $22 million SmartAC.com has raised came from local investors. Teekell, who hasn't announced the full list of the round's investors, explains that while traditionally startups might have more opportunity on the coasts for raising money, it's not hard to sell Houstonians on the benefits of SmartAC.com's optimized air conditioning.

"We've been very fortunate to get some of the biggest names in Houston on our cap table," Teekell says. "Since we're raising a bunch of money locally, everyone understands what a pain air conditioning can be."

The Bay Area and New York regions don't have the same air conditioning problems, Teekell says, so raising funding in those areas was challenging.

"Our overall vision as a company is to perfect the experience of home comfort," Teekell says.

He shares more on how he hopes to accomplish this vision on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Annual student startup competition in Houston names teams for 2024

ready to pitch

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship announced the 42 student-led teams worldwide that will compete in the highly competitive Rice Business Plan Competition this spring.

The annual competition, known as one of the world’s largest and richest intercollegiate student startup competitions, will take place April 4 to 6 in Houston. Teams in this year's competition represent 35 universities from four countries, including two teams from Houston and four others from Texas.

Teams, made up of graduate students from a college or university anywhere in the world, will present their plans before 350 angel, venture capital, and corporate investors to compete for more than $1 million in prizes. Last year, teams were awarded $3.4 million in investment and in-kind prizes, the largest total awarded thus far in the decades-old competition after some investors doubled — or even tripled — down on investment awards.

The 2024 RBPC will focus on five categories: Energy, Cleantech and Sustainability; Hard Tech; Life Sciences and Healthcare Solutions; Digital Enterprise; Consumer Products and Services.

Invitees include:

  • AIRS ML, Imperial College London (United Kingdom)
  • Blaze Power, UCLA
  • ChiChi Foods, Washington University in St. Louis
  • CureWave Sciences, Rutgers University
  • CurveAssure, Johns Hopkins University
  • D.Sole, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Dendritic Health AI, Northwestern University
  • Dialysis Innovations, University of Michigan
  • FlowCellutions, University of Pittsburgh
  • HEXAspec, Rice University
  • HydroPhos Solutions, University of New Hampshire
  • Icorium Engineering Company, University of Kansas
  • Informuta, Tulane University
  • Kiwi Charge, York University (Canada)
  • Korion Health, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Limitless Aeronautics, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University
  • LiQuidium, University of Houston
  • Malleous, University of Pittsburgh
  • MesaQuantum, Harvard University
  • MineMe, University of Pennsylvania
  • NaviAI, Cornell University
  • NutriAI, Tufts University
  • OSPHIM, RWTH Aachen University (Germany)
  • Overture Games, Northwestern University
  • OX SOX, University of Georgia
  • Oxylus Energy, Yale University
  • Palanquin Power, University of Texas at Austin
  • Paradigm Robotics, University of Texas at Austin
  • Particle-N, University of Connecticut
  • Poka Labs, Harvard University
  • Power2Polymer, RWTH Aachen University (Germany)
  • ProPika, University of Arkansas
  • Protein Pints, Michigan State University
  • Samtracs, Oklahoma State University
  • Sancorda Medical, University of Texas at Dallas
  • Side Coach Sports, Baylor University
  • Socian AI, Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Somnair, Johns Hopkins University
  • TouchStone, University of California, Berkeley
  • Vita Innovations, Stanford University
  • WattShift, University of Chicago
  • ZebraMD, UCLA

The companies join more than 700 RBPC alumns that have collectively raised more than $5.5 billion in funding. More than 269 RBPC companies are in business or have made successful exits, according to the Rice Alliance's website.

Last year, Texas A&M-based team FluxWorks took home $350,000 and won the competition based on judges scores. The company's technology includes magnetic gears that are four times quieter than standard with 99 percent efficiency.

Sygne Solutions and TierraClimate, two Rice-led teams, won second and fourth places, respectively. Zaymo, from Brigham Young University, took home the most in investment dollars. Click here to see the full list of 2023 teams.

Texas is the No. 1 destination for Gen Zers on the move, study says

by the numbers

A new population analysis by real estate marketplace Zillow has pegged the Lone Star State as the No. 1 destination for adults born between 1996 and 2004 – also known as Gen Z.

Using data from the 2022 U.S. Census Bureau, the report identifies the Top 10 states to which Gen Zers are moving, and Texas was the runaway winner – far outranking No. 2 destination, California, with 76,805 Gen Z movers, versus California's 43,913.

Reasons for moving vary, but the report says young adults from 18 to 24 years old may prefer to live in states with high performing job markets, especially in a place like San Antonio where one of the nation's top employers resides. San Antonio is also a great place for remote work, according to estimations by Forbes.

Favorable weather also may play a factor in the high migration of Gen Z'ers, the report suggests. Texas' mostly year-round sunshine makes it more attractive to younger crowds who are looking for fun activities around the state, not to mention the advantageous impact on dating opportunities.

Other top states with high influx of Gen Z movers include Washington (No. 5), which added over 33,500 Gen Z movers in 2022, and Colorado (No. 6) with less than 31,000 new Gen Z residents.

Their least favorite destination was Michigan, and the Northeast also ranked poorly, with four New England states – Vermont, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Maine – all in the bottom 10.

State with a high cost-of-living like Washington, Colorado, and Virginia (No. 7) are places where young adults are more likely to have a bachelor's degree, work in tech, or serve in the military, according to Zillow principal population scientist Edward Berchick.

However, becoming a homeowner is much more difficult, as the report found 77 percent of the Gen Z workers in these states are renters.

"Gen Z movers are likely drawn to the job opportunities in these states, despite the higher costs of housing," Berchick explains. "They may also be in a stage of life where they're willing and able to be flexible in their standards of living while starting their careers."

The top 10 states for Gen Z movers are:

  • No. 1 – Texas
  • No. 2 – California
  • No. 3 – Florida
  • No. 4 – North Carolina
  • No. 5 – Washington
  • No. 6 – Colorado
  • No. 7 – Virginia
  • No. 8 – Illinois
  • No. 9 – Georgia
  • No. 10 – Arizona

The full report can be found on zillow.mediaroom.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Op-Ed: Black-owned businesses are making history in Texas, across America

guest column

In recent years, our small business community has weathered a global pandemic, persistent supply chain issues, sometimes volatile prices, and a tight labor market—and Black-owned businesses in our state have faced disproportionate impacts from these pandemic challenges.

Despite those headwinds, Black-owned businesses across Texas are fueling one of the largest and most diverse waves of new business creation America has ever seen—what President Biden calls America’s Small Business Boom.

As we mark America’s 48th national celebration of Black History Month, the SBA is highlighting Black-owned businesses’ achievements here in Texas and throughout the nation. The past three years have been the three strongest years of new business formation in American history.

The 16 million new business applications filed during this period show Americans starting businesses at nearly twice the rate—86 percent faster—compared to the pre-2021 average. During that time, U.S. small businesses have created more than 7.2 million net new jobs. And Black-owned businesses are responsible for some of the most significant gains.

The Invest in America agenda is powering the Biden Small Business Boom, and unlike many economic recoveries of the past, this one includes entrepreneurs of color. One of the reasons for that is the SBA’s Community Navigator Pilot Program (CNPP). This innovative hub-and-spoke partnership connected hundreds of community organizations around the country - like the U.S. Black Chambers of Commerce and the National Urban League - with entrepreneurs, helping them make the most of SBA resources. “The SBA CNPP allowed the

Houston Area Urban League Entrepreneurship Center to leverage existing partnerships with organizations that offered services to socially and economically disadvantaged business owners and women-owned businesses,” states Eric Goodie, Executive Vice President of the Houston Area Urban League. “Through the CNPP we provided comprehensive business planning and support, e-commerce technical assistance, financial and credit education, opportunities for business networking, access to capital and procurement opportunities,while providing assistance with obtaining various business certifications. We also found theSBA Lender match portal to be a critical resource in the capital acquisition process."

Under Administrator Isabel Guzman, the SBA has also delivered record-breaking government contracting for small businesses—including the most federal contracting dollars going to Black-owned businesses in history. And we’re addressing longstanding gaps in access to capital for Black entrepreneurs, more than doubling our small business loans toBlack-owned businesses since 2020.

These investments are making a big impact. Black business ownership is growing at the fastest pace in 30 years. The share of Black households owning a business doubled between 2019 and 2022. In 2023 alone, Census data showed Americans filed 5.5 million new business applications across the country, including over 500,000 here in Texas. That success is creating a rising tide. Black wealth is up a record 60 percent from before the pandemic, and Black unemployment has reached historic lows since 2021.

The SBA also understands that the work must continue. Black entrepreneurs and other historically underserved communities still face obstacles accessing capital. That's why President Biden and the SBA are committed to ensuring that anyone with a good idea can pursue that opportunity, and the Small Business Boom speaks to that success. We're helping more Americans than ever access the funds they need to realize their dreams of small business ownership – and that means more jobs, more goods and services, and more resilient communities, no matter the zip code.

To learn more about SBA resources, entrepreneurs are invited to join the SBA Houston District Office as it teams up with the Emancipation Economic Development Council and dynamic community organizations to celebrate Black History Month. The organizations will host the Resources to Empower Entrepreneurs event at the Emancipation Cultural Center on Wednesday, February 28, and will feature discussions surrounding resources, funding, and training available for small business owners.

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Mark Winchester is the SBA Houston District Office's acting district director.