Konect.ai is using AI and natural language processing within the automotive retail industry. Image via Getty Images

A Houston startup that's using artificial intelligence and natural language processing to disrupt the retail automotive industry has raised seed funding.

Konect.ai announced a $5.5 million seed investment from Austin-based Silverton Partners. The funding will support the company's development of its software, which hopes to advance communications between auto dealerships and auto tech companies and customers.

"This investment from Silverton Partners is a strong validation of our vision and the hard work of our talented team. With this support, we are poised to accelerate our growth and continue to innovate, bringing the most advanced conversational AI products to the automotive retail industry," Cole Kutschinski, president and CEO of Konect.ai, says in a news release.

The Konect.ai platform features tools such as acquisition lead management, SMS campaigns, and after-hours support — all with a goal of enhancing the customer experience and helping achieve sales goals. With the investment the company plans to expand its product offerings, grow research and development, and increase a presence in key markets.

"We at Silverton are excited to partner with and support the Konect.ai team as they accelerate their growth," Rob Taylor, operating partner at Silverton Partners, says in the release. "We were drawn not just to the incredible business they have already built but also to their forward vision of utilizing machine intelligence innovation to create delightful experiences for all parties across the automotive retail ecosystem.”

Konect.ai's tech is enhancing communications in the automotive retail industry. Konect.ai

This tech company wants to replace passwords for good. Photo courtesy of Allthenticate

Tech startup closes seed round at over $3M, plans to grow Houston team

money moves

A California-founded company that recently put down roots in Houston has announced the closing of its seed round of funding.

Allthenticate, a tech startup that enables unified authentication, announced over $3 million raised in its seed funding round led by Austin-based Silverton Partners with participation from California-based Amplify and Denver-based Ping Identity. The total raised in the round is $3,133,337, which, as the press release explains, translates to “elite” in hacker speak.

Allthenticate’s technology and services allow users to utilize smartphone devices to unlock and log in to everything — from doors to computers and servers. The company's mission is to provide safe, easy-to-use security infrastructure for everyday use and to target small- to medium-sized businesses to deploy the technology across their workforces.

“The Internet desperately needs an authentication overhaul," says Chad Spensky, founder and CEO of the company, in the release. "Our current ecosystem is cumbersome, limits innovation, and has numerous security shortcomings. I have dedicated my career to this problem and feel very fortunate to have the support to continue to develop our technology and bring it to the masses.

"The feedback from our early customers has been incredibly positive, which is only compounding the excitement here at Allthenticate," he continues.

Chad Spensky is based in Houston and offices out of The Ion. Photo courtesy of Allthenticate

Allthenticate, which Spensky co-founded with Rita Mounir in 2019 in Santa Barbara, licensed its core technology from MIT that was originally developed for the Department of Defense by Spensky and his team during their tenure at MIT Lincoln Laboratory.

"Silverton has a long history of working with leaders who have pushed boundaries in identity, governance, and access management," says Silverton’s managing partner, Morgan Flager. "Upon meeting Chad and Rita, we recognized Allthenticate's technology as having the potential to be paradigm-shifting for the industry. What the team has accomplished with modest financial resources to date is impressive. We are excited and honored to partner with Allthenticate to accelerate our shared vision of creating a safer and more secure world without passwords."

With the fresh funding, the company plans on growing its Houston team after Spensky relocated to Houston earlier this year. Allthenticate, which offices out of The Ion, is looking to grow within engineering, commercial operations, and partnerships.

"By the end of the year, we'll probably be at six people," Spensky previously told InnovationMap, adding that he hopes to pursue a series A round within the next 18 months.

The Allthenticate technology can be used to unlock everything from devices to doors. Photo courtesy of Allthenticate

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston organizations launch collaborative center to boost cancer outcomes

new to HOU

Rice University's new Synthesis X Center officially launched last month to bring together experts in cancer care and chemistry.

The center was born out of what started about seven years ago as informal meetings between Rice chemist Han Xiao's research group and others from the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Baylor College of Medicine. The level of collaboration between the two teams has grown significantly over the years, and monthly meetings now draw about 100 participants from across disciplines, fields and Houston-based organizations, according to a statement from Rice.

Researchers at the new SynthX Center will aim to turn fundamental research into clinical applications and make precision adjustments to drug properties and molecules. It will focus on improving cancer outcomes by looking at an array of factors, including prevention and detection, immunotherapies, the use of artificial intelligence to speed drug discovery and development, and several other topics.

"At Rice, we are strong on the fundamental side of research in organic chemistry, chemical biology, bioengineering and nanomaterials,” Xiao says in the statement. “Starting at the laboratory bench, we can synthesize therapeutic molecules and proteins with atom-level precision, offering immense potential for real-world applications at the bedside ... But the clinicians and fundamental researchers don’t have a lot of time to talk and to exchange ideas, so SynthX wants to serve as the bridge and help make these connections.”

SynthX plans to issue its first merit-based seed grants to teams with representatives from Baylor and Rice this month.

With this recognition from Rice, the teams from Xiao's lab and the TMC will also be able to expand and formalize their programs. They will build upon annual retreats, in which investigators can share unpublished findings, and also plan to host a national conference, the first slated for this fall titled "Synthetic Innovations Towards a Cure for Cancer.”

“I am confident that the SynthX Center will be a great resource for both students and faculty who seek to translate discoveries from fundamental chemical research into medical applications that improve people’s lives,” Thomas Killian, dean of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences, says in the release.

Rice announced that it had invested in four other research centers along with SynthX last month. The other centers include the Center for Coastal Futures and Adaptive Resilience, the Center for Environmental Studies, the Center for Latin American and Latinx Studies and the Rice Center for Nanoscale Imaging Sciences.

Earlier this year, Rice also announced its first-ever recipients of its One Small Step Grant program, funded by its Office of Innovation. The program will provide funding to faculty working on "promising projects with commercial potential," according to the website.

Houston physicist scores $15.5M grant for high-energy nuclear physics research

FUTURE OF PHYSICS

A team of Rice University physicists has been awarded a prestigious grant from the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Physics for their work in high-energy nuclear physics and research into a new state of matter.

The five-year $15.5 million grant will go towards Rice physics and astronomy professor Wei Li's discoveries focused on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), a large, general-purpose particle physics detector built on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, a European organization for nuclear research in France and Switzerland. The work is "poised to revolutionize our understanding of fundamental physics," according to a statement from Rice.

Li's team will work to develop an ultra-fast silicon timing detector, known as the endcap timing layer (ETL), that will provide upgrades to the CMS detector. The ETl is expected to have a time resolution of 30 picoseconds per particle, which will allow for more precise time-of-flight particle identification.

The Rice team is collaborating with others from MIT, Oak Ridge National Lab, the University of Illinois Chicago and University of Kansas. Photo via Rice.edu

This will also help boost the performance of the High-Luminosity Large Hadron Collider (HL-LHC), which is scheduled to launch at CERN in 2029, allowing it to operate at about 10 times the luminosity than originally planned. The ETL also has applications for other colliders apart from the LHC, including the DOE’s electron-ion collider at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York.

“The ETL will enable breakthrough science in the area of heavy ion collisions, allowing us to delve into the properties of a remarkable new state of matter called the quark-gluon plasma,” Li explained in a statement. “This, in turn, offers invaluable insights into the strong nuclear force that binds particles at the core of matter.”

The ETL is also expected to aid in other areas of physics, including the search for the Higgs particle and understanding the makeup of dark matter.

Li is joined on this work by co-principal investigator Frank Geurts and researchers Nicole Lewis and Mike Matveev from Rice. The team is collaborating with others from MIT, Oak Ridge National Lab, the University of Illinois Chicago and University of Kansas.

Last year, fellow Rice physicist Qimiao Si, a theoretical quantum physicist, earned the prestigious Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship grant. The five-year fellowship, with up to $3 million in funding, will go towards his work to establish an unconventional approach to create and control topological states of matter, which plays an important role in materials research and quantum computing.

Meanwhile, the DOE recently tapped three Houston universities to compete in its annual startup competition focused on "high-potential energy technologies,” including one team from Rice.

------

This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.