Growing Houston-based WizeHire tripled its headcount last year and plans to grow even more as it scales up. Photo courtesy of WizeHire

A Houston software company has closed its latest funding round to the tune of $30 million.

WizeHire, a tech-enabled hiring solution for small businesses, announced the closing of its series B round, bringing its total funding to $37.5 million and its valuation to $250 million, according to the news release. The round was led by Tiger Global with participation from prior Houston-based investors Amplo and Mercury.

The pandemic has greatly impacted businesses ability to hire new employees. Founded in 2014, WizeHire launched a free version of its optimized hiring solution at the height of COVID-19. The company also helped small businesses find and apply for refundable tax credits and Payment Protection Program loans to keep their doors open.

“The pandemic was an incredibly tough time for Main Street, and we were right there with them," says Sid Upadhyay, CEO of WizeHire, in the release. "We’re constantly amazed by the depth of our clients’ trust in us and in response, have stepped up to serve them as a trusted advisor in their business growth. We plan to build a marketplace for small businesses to have access to the resources they need to succeed.”

Now, WizeHire is scaling its abilities to provide more resources to its customers, including offerings like tax, payroll, and insurance advice. The company also recently launched a mobile app for business owners to managing hiring on the go. Additionally, WizeHire has plans to expand into new industries — like automotive, hospitality, insurance, and home services — and add features like recommended background checks, and legally-approved offer letters, per the release.

"WizeHire has created a solution that serves and anticipates the most important needs of Main Street businesses with a focus on hiring skilled workers," Sam Harland, partner at Tiger Global, says in the release. "Rapid adoption of the WizeHire platform by small businesses illustrates the market’s potential, and we are excited to partner with Sid and the WizeHire team.”

The company, which raised its series A a little over a year ago, now has more than 15,000 employers use the platform — and 90 percent of those businesses plan to return for future hiring needs, the release states. Last year, WizeHire doubled its customer base and internally tripled its headcount. The business has plans to continue growing its team this year.

Choice Hotels has a new partner in Houston-based WizeHire. Photo courtesy of Choice Hotels

International hotel chain taps Houston staffing startup to get teams back to work

SAAS moves

A Houston startup has struck a deal with a major new client focused on getting employees back to work at its 6,000 locations worldwide.

Maryland-based international hotelier Choice Hotels International Inc. selected Houston-based WizeHire into its Qualified Vendor program as its only current recruiting solution for the thousands of franchised locations under the Choice Hotels umbrella. WizeHire provides its clients tech-enabled, customized hiring solutions and has a suite of software available for users to utilize.

"We're so excited to support Choice's independently-owned hotels with the most personal and complex part of their businesses—hiring great talent," says Sid Upadhyay, WizeHire's co-founder and CEO, in a press release.

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the hospitality industry saw an unemployment rate of 13.5 percent. With travel expected to increase this year, Choice Hotels is looking to provide its franchisees opportunities to efficiently rehire.

"As a long-time Choice Hotels owner and WizeHire customer, I'm thrilled for what this partnership means for growing my business," says Tushar Patel, owner of Quality Inn & Suites Round Rock - Austin North, in the release.

Hospitality represents one of the six industry verticals WizeHire has listed on its website, and the startup provides "job templates created with industry experts, built-in pre-screening tools specifically for hospitality jobs and benchmarks that help identify the soft skills needed for numerous hotel roles," according to the release.

Choice Hotels nationwide will have access to these resources effective immediately, per the release.

"At a time when there is so much uncertainty for many individuals and employers in the hospitality industry, WizeHire has the opportunity to meet hiring needs at this critical moment," says Justin Nimergood, head of franchise sales for WizeHire. "I'm thrilled to be leading that charge."

After a tumultuous year in which hiring across industries essentially came to a halt, WizeHire is seeing immense business growth as companies plan to rehire, says Upadhyay in a recent interview with InnovationMap. The company recently raised a $7.5 million series A round to gear up for this growth.

With all the uncertainty last, Upadhyay says he and his team instead focused on providing resources, such as PPP loan guidance, for small businesses — something the company is focused on continuing.

"We're really going beyond just the hire," Upadhyay says in a recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We're getting to this role where we're going to help you grow your business."

Listen to Upadhyay on the Houston Innovators Podcast:

WizeHire CEO Sid Upadhyay joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share his big plans for his company as it gears up for growth. Photo courtesy of WizeHire

Houston startup plans to expand to revolutionize tech-enabled small business support

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 74

Hiring and recruiting has been a challenging and inefficient process for small businesses — yet it could not be more important as a company with a small, growing team.

"Today, whether you're running a startup for the first or second time, at the end of the day, you're just wearing too many hats," says Sid Upadhyay, co-founder and CEO of WizeHire, on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Recruiting is one of those things where we know talent is the lifeblood of our businesses, but we just don't have the time to think about the process."

Upadhyay says his company, Houston-based WizeHire, lives and breathes for small businesses, and in 2014 the company launched to tap into technology to provide a software service that can streamline a more effective way for startups and small businesses to hire — and hire optimally.

Last month, the company — founded by Upadhyay, Nick Carneiro, and Jay Niblick — closed a $7.5 million series A funding round that was led by Houston-based Mercury Fund and Amplo, which is based just north of Houston in Spring. Additional support came from existing backers Ruchit Shah and RigUp co-founder Sandeep Jain. The fresh funding will go toward expansion — both of its team as well as WizeHire's products.

Upadhyay says the the effects of the pandemic — which includes many businesses ceasing to hire — had profound repercussions on WizeHire.

"We saw half our revenue disappear overnight," Upadhyay says. "As we were going through that up-and-down roller coaster, it was one of the most humbling experience."

Upadhyay says WizeHire has a close relationship with its customers, and they were reaching out asking for guidance from WizeHire during the uncertain times. Upadhyay's team took the opportunity to provide low or no-cost support, especially when it comes to navigating the CARES Act.

"We started to educate our customers about everything from PPP loans to tax credits," Upadhyay says. "We went so far as to connect 300 of our customers to banks — otherwise they wouldn't have been able to get these loans."

These efforts are what led WizeHire to its first venture capital raise. The bootstrapped company has a client base that includes more than 7,000 businesses, and the company recorded $4.7 million in run rate in 2020. Now, in light of the impact WizeHire was able to make with its clients during the pandemic, Upadhyay says the company is going to expand to include other key services, like identifying tax credits.

"We're really going beyond just the hire," Upadhyay says. "We're getting to this role where we're going to help you grow your business."

Upadhyay discusses more about WizeHire's plans for 2021 and the intentionality of the business on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Rachel Moctron of ClassPass, Sid Upadhyay of WizeHire, and Ashley Small of Medley Inc. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In the week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three innovators across industries recently making headlines — from fitness tech and software to PR and communications.

Rachel Moncton, vice president of Global Marketing at ClassPass

Rachel Moncton shares why ClassPass tapped Houston as a prime place to expand. Photo courtesy of ClassPass

ClassPass recently announced its entrance into the Houston market, and at the helm of the company's new local presence is Rachel Moncton. In a guest article for InnovationMap, she shares why ClassPass was so interested in Houston. The search actually started four years ago, but the tech company finally landed in Houston for its fourth location.

"In 2017, the ClassPass team spent nine months conducting an intensive nationwide search for a city that matched our mission and values," Moncton writes. "As a brand focused on supporting an active lifestyle, we wanted a city that offered a connection to the outdoors. One of the most important driving factors in our search was finding a city where we could attract incredible talent to our team. Though we settled on Missoula, Houston was high on the list." Click here to read more.

Sid Upadhyay, co-founder and CEO of WizeHire

A Houston startup has closed a $7.5 million round of funding with mostly local investment. Photo courtesy of WizeHire

Sid Upadhyay's startup has something to celebrate. The software company founded in Houston closed a $7.5 million series A round of funding led by two Houston-area venture capital firms — Amplo and Mercury Fund. According to a news release, WizeHire will use the funds to scale their business, which is centered around providing personalized hiring resources to small businesses.

"We're a small business helping small businesses with a team of people looking out for you," says Upadhyay. "Hiring is complex and personal. Our customers see what we do not just as software; they see us as a trusted advisor." Click here to read more.

Ashley Small, founder and CEO of Medley Inc.

From events to online shopping — here are four tech trends to look out for this year according to Ashley Small. Photo courtesy of Medley

For Ashley Small, founder and CEO of Medley Inc., innovation and inclusion go hand in hand. Business leaders need diverse voices at the table to drive new ideas and innovation.

"Innovation is actually impossible without diversity," Small says on the most recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "A part of this is also being really open minded to the fact that you are going to hear ideas that sound and look different. Be open to that, because that is 100 percent the point."

Small discusses more about how she's honoring Black History Month with her team and the evolution the PR and media industries have seen over the past decade on the episode. Click here to stream the episode and read more.

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Houston hospital joins the metaverse with new platform

now online

Houston Methodist has launched a platform that is taking medical and scientific experts and students into the metaverse.

The MITIEverse, a new app focused on health care education and training, provides hands-on practice, remote assistance from experienced clinicians, and more. The app — named for the Houston Methodist Institute for Technology, Innovation and Education, aka MITIE — was created in partnership with FundamentalVR and takes users into virtual showcase rooms, surgical simulations, and lectures from Houston Methodist faculty, as well as collaborators from across the world.

“This new app brings the hands-on education and training MITIE is known for to a new virtual audience. It could be a first step toward building out a medical metaverse,” says Stuart Corr, inventor of the MITIEverse and director of innovation systems engineering at Houston Methodist, in a news release.

Image courtesy of Houston Methodist

The hospital system's DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center has created a virtual showcase room on the app, and users can view Houston Methodist faculty performing real surgeries and then interact with 3D human models.

"We view the MITIEverse as a paradigm-shifting platform that will offer new experiences in how we educate, train, and interact with the health community,” says Alan Lumsden, M.D., medical director of Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center, in the release.

“It essentially democratizes access to health care educators and innovators by breaking down physical barriers. There’s no need to travel thousands of miles to attend a conference when you can patch into the MITIEverse," he continues.

Image courtesy of Houston Methodist

Houston doctors get approval for low-cost COVID vaccine abroad

green light

A Houston-born COVID-19 vaccine has gotten the go-ahead to be produced and distributed in Indonesia.

PT Bio Farma, which oversees government-owned pharmaceutical manufacturers in Indonesia, says it’s prepared to make 20 million doses of the IndoVac COVID-19 vaccine this year and 100 million doses a year by 2024. This comes after the vaccine received authorization from the Indonesian Food and Drug Authority for emergency use in adults.

With more than 275 million residents, Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country.

IndoVac was created by the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and Baylor College of Medicine. Drs. Peter Hotez and Maria Elena Bottazzi lead the vaccine project. Bio Farma is licensing IndoVac from BCM Ventures, the commercial group at the Baylor College of Medicine.

“Access to vaccines in the developing world is critical to the eradication of this virus,” Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, says in a news release.

Aside from distributing the vaccine in Indonesia, Bio Farma plans to introduce it to various international markets.

“The need for a safe, effective, low-cost vaccine for middle- to low-income countries is central to the world’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Bottazzi, co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and associate dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor.

“Without widespread inoculation of populations in the developing world, which must include safe, effective booster doses, additional [COVID-19] variants will develop, hindering the progress achieved by currently available vaccines in the United States and other Western countries.”

Bio Farma says it has completed Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials for IndoVac and is wrapping up a Phase 3 trial.

IndoVac is a version of the patent-free, low-cost Corbevax vaccine, developed in Houston and dubbed “The World’s COVID-19 Vaccine.” The vaccine formula can be licensed by a vaccine producer in any low- or middle-income country, which then can take ownership of it, produce it, name it, and work with government officials to distribute it, Hotez told The Texas Tribune in February.

Among donors that have pitched in money for development of the vaccine are the Houston-based MD Anderson and John S. Dunn foundations, the San Antonio-based Kleberg Foundation, and Austin-based Tito’s Vodka.

“During 2022, we hope to partner with the World Health Organization and other United Nations agencies to vaccinate the world. We believe that global vaccine equity is finally at hand and that it is the only thing that can bring the COVID pandemic to an end,” Hotez and Bottazzi wrote in a December 2021 article for Scientific American.

Houston research: How best to deliver unexpected news as a company

houston voices

According to Forbes, the volume of mergers and acquisitions in 2021 was the highest on record, and 2022 has already seen a number of major consolidation attempts. Microsoft’s acquisition of video game company Activision Blizzard was the biggest gaming industry deal in history, according to Reuters. JetBlue recently won the bid over Frontier Airlines to merge with Spirit Airlines. And, perhaps most notably, Elon Musk recently backed out of an attempt to acquire Twitter.

It can be hard to predict how markets will react to such high-profile deals (and, in Elon Musk and Twitter’s case, whether or not the deal will even pan out). But Rice Business Professor Haiyang Li and Professor Emeritus Robert Hoskisson, along with Jing Jin of the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, have found that companies can take advantage of these deals to buffer the effects of other news.

The researchers looked at 7,575 mergers and acquisitions from 2001 to 2015, with a roughly half-and-half split between positive and negative stock market reactions. They found that when there’s a negative reaction to a deal, companies have two strategies for dealing with it. If it’s a small negative reaction, companies will release positive news announcements in an attempt to soften the blow. But when the reaction is really bad, companies actually tend to announce more negative news afterward. Specifically, companies released 18% less positive news and 52% more negative news after a bad market reaction.

This may seem counterintuitive, but there’s a method to the madness, and it all has to do with managing expectations. If people are lukewarm on a company due to a merger or acquisition, it’s possible to sway public opinion with unrelated good news. When the backlash is severe, though, a little bit of good PR won’t be enough to change people’s minds. In this case, companies release more bad news because it’s one of their best chances to do so without making waves in the future. If people already think poorly of a company due to a recent deal, more bad news isn’t great, but it doesn’t come as a surprise, either. Therefore, it’s easier to ignore.

It might make more sense to just keep quiet if the market reaction to a deal is bad, and this study found that most companies do. However, this only applies when releasing more news would make a mildly bad situation worse. If things are already bad enough that the company can’t recover with good news, it can still make the best out of a bad situation by offloading more bad news when the damage will be minimal. Companies are legally obligated to disclose business-related news or information with shareholders and with the public. If it’s bad news, they like to share it when the public is already upset about a deal, instead of releasing the negative news when there are no other distractions. In this case the additional negative news is likely to get more play in the media when disclosed by itself.

But what happens when people get excited about a merger or acquisition? In these cases, it also depends on how strong the sentiment is. If the public’s reaction is only minimally positive, companies may opt to release more good news in hopes of making the reaction stronger. When the market is already enthusiastic about the deal, though, companies won’t release more positive news. The researchers found that after an especially positive market reaction to a deal, companies indeed released 12% less positive news but 56% more negative news. Also, one could argue that the contrasting negative news makes the good news on the acquisition look even better. This may be important especially if the acquisition is a significant strategic move.

There are several reasons why a company wouldn’t continue to release positive news after a good press day and strong market reaction. First of all, they want to make sure that a rise in market price is attributed to the deal alone, and not any irrelevant news. A positive reaction to a deal also gives companies another opportunity to disclose bad news at a time when it will get less attention. If the bad news does get attention, the chances are better that stakeholders will go easy on them — a little bit of bad press is forgivable when the good news outshines it.

Companies may choose to release no news after a positive reaction to a merger or acquisition, the same way they might opt to stay quiet after backlash. They’re less likely to release positive news when stakeholders are already happy, preferring to save that news for the next time they need it, either to offset a negative reaction or strengthen a weak positive reaction.

Mergers and acquisitions can produce unpredictable market reactions, so it’s important for companies to be prepared for a variety of outcomes. In fact, Jin, Li and Hoskisson found that the steps taken by companies before deals were announced didn’t have much effect on the public’s reaction. They found that it’s more important for companies to make the best out of that reaction, whatever it turns out to be.

The researchers also found that, regardless of whether the market reaction was positive or negative, as long as the reaction was strong, companies could use the opportunity to hide smaller pieces of bad news in the shadow of a headline-making deal. Overall, the magnitude of the reaction mattered more than the type of reaction. People tend to have stronger reactions to unexpected news, though, so companies prefer to release negative news when market expectations are already low.

These findings are relevant beyond merger announcements, of course; they also point to strategies that could be useful in everyday communications. A key takeaway is that negative information is less upsetting when people already expect bad things — or when it comes after much bigger, and much better, news. Bad news is always hard to deliver, but this research gives us a few ways to soften the blow.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and was based on research from Jing Jin, Haiyang Li and Robert Hoskisson.