Solugen closed its Series C funding round at $357 million to grow its chemical products. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based Solugen, a startup that specializes in combating carbon dioxide emitted during the production of chemicals, has hauled in $357 million in a Series C funding round. That amount eclipses the size of any Houston VC funding round this year or last year.

The Series C round lifts Solugen's pre-money valuation to $1.5 billion, according to the Axios news website. This gives Solugen "unicorn" status as a startup with a valuation of at least $1 billion.

Singapore-based GIC and Edinburgh, Scotland-based Baillie Gifford led the round, with participation from Temasek Holdings, affiliates of BlackRock, Carbon Direct Capital Management, Refactor Capital, and Fifty Years.

Since its founding in 2016, Solugen has raised more than $405 million in venture capital, according to Crunchbase.

"Solugen's vision for cleaner chemicals through synthetic biology has the potential to be a fundamental shift in how chemicals are made, to help tackle the environmental challenges we face globally. The chemical market itself is colossal, and Solugen is just getting started," Kirsty Gibson, investment manager at Baillie Gifford, says in a September 9 news release.

Solugen's patented Bioforge processes produce "green" chemicals from bio-based feedstocks. These chemicals are aimed at reducing or eliminating carbon emissions from chemical producers. The Series C funding will help Solugen expand the Bioforge platform and broaden the reach of Solugen's products.

Carbon dioxide from chemical production ranks among the greatest contributors to industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

CNBC explains that Solugen designs and grows enzymes that can turn sugar into chemicals needed to make an array products used in many industrial settings. The company's bio-based chemical offering already includes water treatments, a chemical that makes concrete stronger, another chemical that makes fertilizers more efficient, and detergents that are strong enough to clean a locker room or mild enough to be used for facial wipes, according to CNBC.

"This fundraising round allows us to continue expanding the footprint of our Bioforge technology to give industries the products they need to reduce emissions in their existing supply chains, without compromising on performance or economics," Sean Hunt, co-founder and chief technology officer of Solugen, says in the news release.

Three days before the funding announcement, Solugen made news of a different sort.

Axios reported September 7 that Solugen plans to open a new R&D facility outside Texas because many of the state's social policies — including its abortion restrictions — are making it hard to recruit employees.

Solugen employs about 115 people, most of whom work from its Houston headquarters, Axios says. The startup plans to more than double its R&D capability over the next two years, representing around 100 jobs, with most of those workers expected to be assigned to a new facility that will be set up in California or Massachusetts.

"We want to make sure we're hiring the top enzymologists and chemical engineers," Solugen CEO Gaurab Chakrabarti tells Axios. "We've come to the conclusion after talking to lots of candidates that they want to join Solugen, but they don't feel comfortable coming to Texas, so for us it's become a no-brainer to have R&D facilities elsewhere."

Last year, HighRadius became Houston's first unicorn — a privately held startup valued at over $1 billion. Now, the fintech company has raised more funds. Image via HighRadius.com

Houston fintech unicorn raises $300M in series C

money moves

Houston's first "unicorn," fintech company HighRadius, is growing up fast.

On March 30, HighRadius, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) business, reported it raised a $300 million Series C round of funding that values the company at $3.1 billion. D1 Capital Partners and Tiger Global Management led the round, with participation from existing investors ICONIQ Growth and Susquehanna Growth Equity. Also contributing to the round were four high-profile entrepreneurs:

  • Frank Slootman, chairman and CEO of Snowflake, a cloud-computing company based in San Mateo, California. Both D1 Capital and Tiger Global invested in Snowflake, which went public in September.
  • Michael Scarpelli, chief financial officer of Snowflake.
  • Tooey Courtemanche, CEO of Carpinteria, California-based Procore Technologies, which produces software for management of construction projects. D1 Capital and Tiger Global are investors in Procore.
  • Howie Liu, co-founder and CEO of Airtable, a cloud-based collaboration platform based in San Francisco. D1 Capital is among Airtable's investors.

In a news release, HighRadius says it will spend the money to fuel product development and expand its global reach.

The $300 million funding round comes nearly 15 months after HighRadius announced it raised $125 million in a Series B round that catapulted it to unicorn status. In the fundraising world, a unicorn refers to a startup valued at $1 billion or more.

HighRadius, based in West Houston, was founded in 2006. It employs more than 1,000 people around the world. The HighRadius website listed 16 job openings as of March 30, with 10 of them in Houston.

HighRadius' AI-powered SaaS offering streamlines accounts-receivable and cash-management processes. For instance, HighRadius' Cash Application software relies on AI to comb through documents like emails and invoices to automatically match incoming payments with customer accounts. The company has over 600 customers, including more than 200 of the Forbes Global 2000.

"Our goal has always been to build a long-lasting business that outlasts all of us," Sashi Narahari, founder and CEO of HighRadius, says in the news release. "I look forward to working with [our] high-quality, long-term investors, who share a common vision of transforming the office of the CFO using a combination of artificial intelligence built on top of connected-finance workspaces and embedded analytics."

In the news release, Daniel Sundheim, founder of New York City-based D1 Capital, says CFOs and their teams have historically relied on antiquated methods to handle accounts receivable and cash management.

"HighRadius is in the opening innings of defining the next big software market for the office of the CFO," John Curtius, a partner at New York City-based Tiger Global, says in the news release. "HighRadius bears all of the signs of being a category-defining business for order-to-cash automation."

These five companies are starting 2019 out with some cash, and here's what they plan on doing with it. Getty Images

5 Houston startups beginning 2019 with new capital

Venture adventures

Finding growing Houston startups is as easy as following the money, and a few local companies are starting 2019 strong with a recent round of funding closed. InnovationMap has rounded up a few recent raises to highlight heading into the new year.

Apartment Butler

Ben Johnson's business idea turned into a growing company making the lives of apartment dwellers easier. Courtesy of Apartment Butler

Apartment Butler closed a $2 million seed funding round in October that was led by Houston-based Mercury Fund. The Houston startup partners with apartment communities to streamline services — like cleaning or dog walking — for residents.

Founder Ben Johnson recently spoke with InnovationMap about his career and the company. He says the company plans to launch in Austin this month and another market in March. Apartment Butler will also expand to microservices — smaller services that have only been available to the rich before.

The funding reportedly is being used to expand the company's footprint as well as make competitive hires.

Data Gumbo

blockchain

Blockchain-as-a-service company, Data Gumbo, closed its seed fund with more money than it planned for. Getty Images

Data Gumbo, a Houston company that provides blockchain technology as a service, overachieved when it closed its seed round in August 2018. The company closed with $1.35 million, which is $300,000 more than the goal.

Led by CEO Andrew Bruce, Data Gumbo has a viable product and is producing revenue, according to a release. The company launched a full implementation of its technology on a Diamond Offshore rig this fall, which made it the first commercial installation of industrial blockchain technology.

Among the investors was Houston-based Carnrite Ventures and Silicon Valley's Plug and Play, the release notes.

Validere

Validere, a Canada-based energy logistics company, is expanding in Houston. Courtesy of Validere

While based in Canada, Validere is using its recent raise to expand into the Houston market. The seed round closed in October with $7 million raised. The company's co-founder, Nouman Ahmad, told InnovationMap in a recent article that they are focusing on expanding the Houston office and are actively hiring.

"The goal in 2019 is to be at the same stage — in terms of customer success — in the U.S. market as we were at the end of 2018 in the Canadian market," Ahmad says.

Intelligent Implants

Intelligent Implant's co-founder, Juan Pardo, told the crowd at Demo Day that his company's device allows for 50 percent faster bone growth in patients. Photo by Cody Duty/TMC

Recent graduate of the Texas Medical Center's TMCx medical devices program, Intelligent Implants created a technology that stimulates bone growth following corrective back surgery.

The Houston startup closed a funding round in October with two investors, according to Crunchbase. The total raise was reported as a $1 million Mezzanine round on AngelMD.

Saranas

Saranas Inc. is testing its technology that can detect and track internal bleeding complications. Getty Images

Saranas Inc., a Houston-based medical device company, is currently in its clinical trials thanks to a $2.8 million Series C fund that closed in May 2018. The trials are focused on the company's key device, called the Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System, which is designed to detect and track bleeding complications related to endovascular procedures. These medical procedures treat problems, such as aneurysms, that affect blood vessels.

In a story for InnovationMap, Zaffer Syed, president and CEO of Saranas, says the clinical trials are crucial for receiving approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. That approval is expected this year.

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Venture adventures will be a regular roundup on InnovationMap. If your company is in the process of closing or recently closed on a round, please email Natalie Harms at natalie@innovationmap.com.

Saranas Inc. is testing its technology that can detect and track internal bleeding complications. Getty Images

Houston medical device company heads to clinical trials following recent $2.8 million raise

HEalth tech

A Houston-based medical device startup is on a twofold mission to reduce healthcare costs and improve the safety of complex medical procedures involving blood vessels.

Saranas Inc. currently is testing its Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System, which is designed to detect and track bleeding complications related to endovascular procedures. These medical procedures treat problems, such as aneurysms, that affect blood vessels.

"What attracted me to Saranas is that our solution has the potential to meaningfully reduce serious bleeding complications that worsen clinical outcomes and drive up healthcare costs," says Zaffer Syed, president and CEO of Saranas. "In addition, our device may support access of important minimally invasive cardiac procedures by allowing them to be performed more safely."

Dr. Mehdi Razavi, a cardiologist with the Texas Heart Institute at Houston's Texas Medical Center, invented the device. It's being tested by the institute and other medical facilities in the U.S. As many as 100 patients will participate in the clinical trial, which is expected to last several months.

If all goes well, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will approve Early Bird in 2019, Syed says. Then, the device would be made widely available to medical facilities across the country.

In May, Saranas said it received $2.8 million in funding from investors to enable testing of Early Bird. In all, the startup has collected $12 million from investors. A month after the funding announcement, Saranas was one of 50 startups chosen for the MedTech Innovator program, which nurtures medical technology companies.

As explained by the Texas Heart Institute, the Early Bird employs a sheath — a plastic tube that helps keep arteries and vessels open — embedded with sensors that measure the electrical resistance across a blood vessel. When the Early Bird senses a change in the electrical resistance, medical professionals get audible and visual notifications about potential internal bleeding. If detected early, this bleeding can be halted or prevented.

"There is a risk of bleeding that occurs when some of these coronary interventions are performed through the femoral artery, which is in the upper thigh," Syed says.

In a release, Texas Heart Institute cardiologist Dr. Joggy George says internal bleeding "remains the Achilles' heel" of advances in noninvasive endovascular procedures.

Syed says there's an underappreciation for how often bleeding occurs during nonsurgical procedures that provide access to a patient's blood vessels. Each year, doctors perform these procedures on more than 20 million patients in the U.S.; of those, about 1 million experience severe complications from bleeding. Those complications can lead to longer, more expensive hospital stays along with a higher risk of death.

Initially, Saranas is targeting high-risk endovascular procedures done with large sheaths, rather than endovascular procedures performed with sheaths of all sizes, Syed says.

Syed took the helm of Saranas in February 2017. He's spent nearly 20 years in the medical device industry, including four years at Bellaire-based OrthoAccel Technologies Inc.

For the time being, Syed is one of just a handful of employees at Saranas, which was founded in 2013 and has benefited from its affiliation with the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute. Syed expects to grow the Saranas team in 2019 once the Early Bird gains clearance from the FDA.

During his tenure in the medical device sector, Syed has been "keenly interested" in bringing impactful innovations to the market, such as the Early Bird device.

"It is especially important to me that such innovation not only improves health outcomes but also aims to drive down healthcare costs," he says. "We are in a healthcare environment where if you don't have a health economic benefit coupled with a clinical outcome, it is very challenging to get adoption of new technology."

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Houston university names inaugural VP of innovation

man in charge

Rice University has created a new position to be a steward of innovation on campus — and the "Ivy League of the South" has selected the official to take on the job.

Rice University has named Paul Cherukuri, the executive director of the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering, the inaugural vice president for innovation. In his role, Cherukuri will "lead Rice’s technology and commercialization infrastructure to translate breakthrough discoveries into inventions for the benefit of society," per a news release from Rice.

Rice continues explaining that the new office's focus areas will be technology translation, startup creation, commercialization, and entrepreneurship training, as well as steering engagement at the Ion. The Office of Innovation and the new leadership position were created to ensure Rice is a leader within Houston and the global innovation ecosystem, says President Reginald DesRoches.

“Paul has already started to develop a culture of innovation and impact on campus in his role at the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering,” DesRoches says in the release. “He has created ways for faculty to serve as academic entrepreneurs, engaged external partners in innovative pursuits and started working to improve Rice’s transfer and translation systems. I look forward to continuing to work with him on these initiatives and to leveraging Rice's world-class research community, thriving entrepreneurship programming, top-ranked degree programs and talented undergraduate and graduate student body to advance and grow the institution's innovation portfolio.”

Cherukuri — who is a physicist, chemist, and medtech entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience in academia and the pharmaceutical industry — will assume the role and its responsibilities on August 16. He has served as executive director of the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering since 2016.

“I am thrilled and honored to serve in this new role at this inflection point in our university’s history,” Cherukuri says in the release. “Rice has some of the finest minds in the world and I look forward to working with President DesRoches and the leadership team he has assembled to chart a bold new path for world-changing innovation from Rice by engaging the remarkable innovation ecosystem including the Ion District, the Texas Medical Center, industry and other unique assets in Houston.”

Nine search committee members selected Cherukuri. Naomi Halas, the Stanley C. Moore Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of the Smalley-Curl Institute, led the committee.

“Paul is the perfect fit to lead our university’s innovation future,” Halas says in the release. “His entrepreneurial experience in early-stage startups and big pharma gives him a unique ability to accelerate the translation of breakthrough discoveries into the marketplace. He creates clear pathways for researchers to find new avenues for application within the research realm as well as transition into commercial use. I am excited about the work he will do for Rice in this new role.”

Prominent Houston banking family gifts $4M to UH's innovative new center for minority entrepreneurship

a helping hand

A prominent Houston family has just made a sizable investment in the University of Houston’s in the C. T. Bauer College of Business. The Dakri family has pledged $4 million in support of the Bauer College’s new Center for Economic Inclusion, which which aims to develop minority entrepreneurship and business development.

With the donation, the CEI will now be known as the Musa and Khaleda Dakri Center for Economic Inclusion, according to a press release.

Specifically, this $4 million gift will establish an endowed chair to support the center’s chair/director position and an endowed professorship to expand the institute’s research priorities, which includes research on small business entrepreneurship. Monies also will also support research costs and graduate research fellowships for students, per UH.

“The Dakri family is passionate about the betterment of Houston, generously offering their time and resources to truly make an impact in the community,” said Renu Khator, University of Houston president, in a statement. “With this support for our new Center for Economic Inclusion, entrepreneurs from all communities, including those in most need of investment, will get access to education, expertise and training needed to build businesses and transform lives.”

Musa and Khaleda Dakri, who hail from India, are longtime Houston residents and have been married for 54 years. Musa has been the chairman of Wallis Bank for more than 30 years. His sons Asif and Faizel serve as Wallis Bank’s chief executive officer and chief information officer, respectively.

Besides being longtime UH supporters, the Dakri family has long worked for the betterment of the African American, Mexican American, and South Asian communities. Of note, an endowment in UH’s Center for Mexican American, and Latino/a Studies named for Musa and Khaleda provides support for student scholarships, research, and more.

As the only higher education center of its kind in the US, the Center for Economic Inclusion aims to combine experiential education, academic research, and real-world expertise to train students in human-centered skills, while economically empowering under-resourced entrepreneurs.

At the center’s launch, keynote speaker Henry Cisneros, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), called UH’s model for training entrepr“eneurs and upskilling students the best he has ever seen.

Our newly established Center for Economic Inclusion will empower aspiring entrepreneurs, who are mostly women and people of color, to chase their dreams of founding a successful new business, just as the Dakri family has done successfully for decades,” said Paul A. Pavlou, dean of the C. T. Bauer College of Business, in a statement. “Our gratitude to the Dakri family is only matched by our eagerness to get to work and train the next generation of diverse entrepreneurs.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.