Umbrage, a Houston-based developer of enterprise software, has closed its seed funding. Photo via umbrage.com

A software startup in Houston has leveled up thanks to new funding. Houston-based digital studio Umbrage has reportedly raised $2 million.

Founded in 2019 by Will Womble, Umbrage creates custom software solutions for companies within digitally transforming industries, such as oil and gas, healthcare, and supply chain.

"Umbrage is a new way that enterprises can overcome the inherent challenges of building and scaling digital solutions," Womble, who also serves as CEO, says in a news release. "Umbrage partners with internal technology teams to create scalable products that directly impact business' success. And by training our clients to effectively scale and improve these custom-built solutions, we're setting up our customers for long-term, sustainable success."

The round was led by Rice Investment Group — which, according to the release, has been a client of Umbrage as well as an investor.

"We've utilized Umbrage's custom solutions in our portfolio companies with great success and we can attest to the customer value proposition," says Danny Rice, a Partner of Rice Investment Group. "We're thrilled to support Umbrage's growth and enable forward-thinking businesses to unlock the business potential that digital solutions from Umbrage can deliver."

According to the release, Umbrage was able to be cash-flow-positive within weeks of starting and has already grown its team to nearly 40 employees. Clients include Cold Bore Technologies, Sumitomo Corp., and cpap.com.

"Umbrage brings a product-first mindset that continues to influence our organization far beyond what is expected from a software vendor," says Edwin Suarez, vice president and chief digital officer at SC Global Tubular Solutions. "Our team has been challenged with digital business models from ideation through product development and partnering with Umbrage helps us focus on long-term strategy while ensuring delivery on our immediate needs."

DocJuris has raised its first round of venture funding to grow its team to keep up with demand for its legal software platform. Image courtesy of DocJuris

Houston B2B software company raises $3.2M in seed funding to grow team and product

money moves

A Houston-based software-as-a-service company that is revolutionizing the contract process has closed a round of funding this week.

DocJuris, founded in 2018, raised $3.2 million in seed funding led by New York-based RTP Seed with additional support from Houston-based Seed Round Capital, California-based Watertower Ventures, Maryland-based Crossbeam, and Remote First Capital.

It's the startup's first round of venture funding and Henal Patel, CEO of DocJuris, says he was looking for funds as well as support from investors who had experience with software and could open doors to new clients for the legal software.

"Our platform is designed to empower legal, sales, and procurement teams and corporations to negotiate and close contracts with greater speed and precision," Patel says. "The underlying mission is to solve the last-mile of contracting."

Henal Patel is CEO of DocJuris. Photo courtesy of DocJuris

The need for funding came at a time of growth, Patel says, as DocJuris was seeing more and more opportunities in light of the pandemic.

"As work has gone more remote, there's a greater need for teams to be able to collaborate on their contracts — instead of sending Word documents over email," he tells InnovationMap.

Within the contract optimization space, Patel says he sees a lot of opportunities for enhancing the experience for lawyers, business owners, contractors, and anyone who has to spend any amount of time on legal papers.

"One of our visions is to — in addition to providing the tactical tools we do to day — revisualize the way that people read contracts," Patel says. "Our platform enables the ability to improve the lives of the people who have to stare at contracts all day."

DocJuris is already hiring for a few positions across sales, customer service, and marketing, and Patel says he will continue to grow his remote team locally.

"We've been remote since before it was cool," Patel says, adding that all but one of his employees is based in Houston. "But we've been locally concentrated in Houston. We're planning on growing our team here in Houston, but keeping the team remote. We believe in Houston."

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

Houston software startup closes $7.5M series A led by two Houston-area​ VC firms

money moves

A Houston B2B software startup has closed a new round of funding led by two Houston venture capital firms.

WizeHire, a tech-enabled hiring solution for small businesses, 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 company was co-founded by Sid Upadhyay, Nick Carneiro, and Jay Niblick.

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, as well as to hire more staff and expand its partner program.

"We're a small business helping small businesses with a team of people looking out for you," says Upadhyay, who serves the company as CEO, in the release. "Hiring is complex and personal. Our customers see what we do not just as software; they see us as a trusted advisor."

WizeHire's client base includes more than 7,000 businesses, and the company recorded $4.7 million in run rate in 2020, according to the press release, and it was the company's highest year-over-year growth.

"WizeHire is focused on a future where small business owners have easy access to the elevated hiring experience large corporations already have," says Amplo's Sam Garcia, who will join WizeHire's board, in the release. "They're not just creating a better alternative to current recruiting solutions; they're giving employers more peace of mind about the hiring process so they can get back to building their business."

Last year, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company launched a free version of its product and partnered with lenders to help increase accessibility for the Paycheck Protection Program. Now, in a new year, unemployment continues to soar and more than 10 million people remained out of work. As small businesses continue to recover and plan to rehire, WizeHire provides a service that is hyper-personalized for different industries.

"We are thrilled to support WizeHire's opportunity to define talent acquisition for small businesses," says Heath Butler, managing director at Mercury, who will also join WizeHire's board. "By systematically helping hiring managers align company values, behavioral competencies, technical skills and industry requirements to identify the best candidate, WizeHire is enabling their clients to maximize productivity, reduce turnover cost and increase customer loyalty."

This energy tech startup is using tech to change the game within the exploration and production industry. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based startup makes a splash with cloud technology for E&P in oil sector

big computing

A Houston area environmental and energy tech company offers a new pay-as-you-go SaaS application that uses chemistry, physics, artificial intelligence, and cloud technology to build simulation platforms for major exploration and production companies.

AquaNRG Consulting's new technology has already been used by major independent E&P companies, helping to increase energy production and optimization. With new products like aiRock™, it uses cloud-based technology to simulate the physical and chemical processes in natural and human-made porous media driven by data.

The company, founded in 2017 by Babak Shafei, a Ph.D. in Earth and Environmental Sciences, uses data chemistry-physics in a new scientific methodology that uses data-driven methods including machine learning to complement and enhance theoretical modeling on reactive transport modeling (RTM) principles.

"We have been working on the product while also thinking of new ways to provide services needed in the energy industry for a number of years," says Shafei.

Babak Shafei founded Houston-based AquaNRG. Photo courtesy of AquaNRG

AquaNRG has been awarded three prestigious Small Business Innovation Research grants totaling $1.4 million from the US Department of Energy and National Science Foundation.

Shafei says that his team of in the research lab continues to develop and improve the set of techniques that can optimize the oil and gas industry. The technology offers a number of solutions in the geology area, including geochemistry or petrophysical calculations, or even in the environmental area for biogeochemistry and remediation calculations.

"Our technology is oriented to big data and big computing," says Shafei. "The platform is armed machine learning and artificial intelligence that uses the chemistry-physics methodology while using a cloud-based application that is very popular and essential for the energy sector."

Shafei says that during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the digitization of the energy industry has only increased, and helped AquaNRG grow their brand. They plan to use this upward push to their advantage, by expanding their business and thinking well into the future.

"Our team of researchers is focused on our product and our offerings," says Shafei. "There's a lot of exciting things on our mind, including different verticals in terms of new hiring and new facilities, we're looking forward to rolling forward with that."

Parents, coaches, recruiters — they all use sports footage differently. Houston-based VarsityHype is using tech to help them do that better. Photo via varsityhype.com

Houston SaaS company launches to enhance analytics for amateur sports video footage

sports tech

Something about youth sports produces unforgettable memories, but to be able to share them requires a little help. That's where Houston-based VarsityHype comes in.

Fueled by the tagline "capture the moment," the robust and affordable software-as-a-service, cloud-based solution empowers all users to create, interact, communicate, share and analyze their sports video content that matters most in exciting and meaningful ways.

CEO and founder of VarsityHype, Jorge Ortiz, previously founded a video production company, VYPE Media. Through this work, he realized people could be doing so much more with this footage.

"Last year, we covered and filmed or photographed over 13,000 games and through that, this idea for VarsityHype was born," says CEO Jorge Ortiz. "When we delivered footage for a lot of these organizations, we found that most platforms out there are not specifically tailored to sports, and those that are, are extremely convoluted, hard to use and super expensive."

To combat those systemic and costly roadblocks to the delivery of video footage, the analytics platform was launched as a tool for coaches, athletes, families and organizations, whether they're a league, team, middle school, high school, private, or public school, to be able to create their own private ecosystem centered around video.

Now is the perfect time to be a startup in the youth sports market, which is valued at $15.5 billion in the United States. Not surprisingly, video technology is a huge and growing component of that market.

"I've been in the youth space, tech space, youth, and tech space and the media space for the last four years of my career," says Ortiz. "My first company that I started, GameDay Films, was a filming company that basically democratized youth and high school sports films across the state of Texas and Oklahoma. Now, with VarstiyHype, users can upload their videos into a fluid system that allows every single user to tailor their experience to what they need."

That's apropos, because somewhere, someplace, especially in Texas, there is always a must-see youth football play that will blow everyone's mind in real time. But if it's not documented on video, no one not there to see it firsthand will believe it.

"If I'm a parent, I'm only interested in the memorabilia component of this piece of software," says Ortiz. "So now mom and dad can go in and create highlights of little Johnny's best plays to share with grandma and grandpa and invite their whole family to participate."

Users can create profiles and upload videos. Photo via varsityhype.com

Likewise, athletes themselves can go in and create their profile, update all their stats and create highlights from their workout footage, practice footage and game footage in order to promote themselves and possibly get recruited to the next level.

For coaches, there is an extensive tray of analytical tools that allow them to do what John Madden used to do on Monday Night Football, which is write on the actual footage to aggregate stats, look at heat maps and basically do an analytical performance review.

"From a league, school and team perspective, users can go in and organize the entire infrastructure for that organization from the platform," says Ortiz. "For example, a league can go in and create every single division, including non-athletic divisions like the color guard, band and drumline, etc.

"The application is very nimble and fluid to be able to provide whatever the user needs for a specific instance."

Depending on what the user needs, the platform allows them to create from a variety of templates to build out an entire infrastructure for all levels of competition.

All footage is owned by the users and once something is created on the servers, it will remain there indefinitely, allowing for access to the system even after an extended absence.

The system also connects to all social media platforms with one click of a button.

"You'll be able to share in real time when you're at a game and have the ability to check in," says Ortiz. "When someone shows up to a scheduled game, all that information is geo-targeted and time stamped, and you'll be able to build out a storyboard with all the pictures and videos collected."

As the platform that facilitates all video footage, VarsityHype makes it extremely simple for users to upload and manipulate film they've captured.

"Once the footage is up in the system, creating a highlight is very simple," says Ortiz. "Users can cut up and create footage, such as a game recap. We are the delivery mechanism, so to that extent we also have a partnership with a company here in Houston and across the country in certain different areas that go out and do the filming themselves."

For such an advanced platform, VarsityHype has a simple pricing model.

The first is an annual recurring revenue, which allows organizations, schools, league and teams to purchase a six- or 12-month subscription. The second is the individual plan, which is open to anyone for a monthly fee.

"Our ultimate goal in the next year is to be able to hit scale locally (Houston and Texas), with football being the backbone but then hitting on what we call 'passion pockets' or uniquely played sports that a lot of people don't participate in but have an incredibly passionate following like fencing. Our yearly goal is to have 100,000 plus athletes on the website.

"And from there, we want to scale it quick enough to start to layer in our next step which is a machine learning video component and our AI backend infrastructure that's already built out that allows coaches to break down footage and analyze opponents' scout footage to give them a better game plan."

In the golden age of software companies, here's what SaaS entrepreneurs need to focus on to thrive. Getty Images

Local investor shares how Houston SaaS companies can stay afloat amid the pandemic

guest column

The COVID pandemic has created a macro environment that is similar to that of the 1918 Spanish Flu and the 2008 downturn and B2B software-as-a-service companies, like Salesforce, found the 2008 downturn an advantageous environment for cheap revenue growth — I've discussed this in a previous column. Now, I'd like to explore how B2B SaaS founders can position their businesses to capture this opportunity and better prepare themselves for the $400 billion of private equity looking for IT investments.

A prolonged recession due to the global response to COVID-19 provides opportunities for smart founders. Talent and partnerships from non-tech industries are likely to be much easier to access in a recessionary environment. Widespread adoption of technology is likely to result in a much more open and fruitful sales environment. And robust exit opportunities mean that this over performance will be rewarded.

So, how should smart founders operate given this opportunity? Here are a few implications that are congruent with our research.

Know your sales performance data

Many companies forsook effective KPI management while growing. Now is the time to home in on metrics so that you can discern the payoff of different tactics. Knowing sales performance metrics will help founders deploy capital wisely. Good quality and frequent data will also help you assess whether this thesis is working out for your firm.

Get whatever funding you can — and fast

In 2008, funding dropped by 20 percent, valuations by 20 to 25 percent and check sizes by 35 percent, and the current environment could be more drastic. This is paradoxical given the incredible opportunity for B2B SaaS right now, but it is in line with the human urge to run from risk. Despite claiming to be risk-seeking and long-term focused, most venture firms will pull back in this environment. Get what you can and be flexible on valuation. A smart founder who sees the opportunity can overcome additional dilution now.

Hire expert sales talent

The urge to cut back on salaries and freeze pay is high right now. Don't make that mistake, especially not in sales. There will be many firms that make this mistake, giving you the opportunity to hire expert sales talent. Pay them at the top of market, give them uncapped commission plans, and capture the growth opportunity.

Create a survival plan and set limits

This growth opportunity might not materialize. Fortunately for most B2B SaaS, there is operational flexibility built into the cost model. You can cut back on aggressive sales growth and pull expenses within your recurring revenue. Once you have a cash floor in mind and a downside plan of what you will do if either 1) you get to your cash floor or 2) the sales metrics are not proving attractive, you are safe to charge ahead. Armed with compelling acquisition data and a stable customer base, it would be easy to find additional capital.

Prepare for inflation in you customer contracts

While most B2B SaaS investors love long term contracts, the unprecedented level of fiscal and monetary support in the wake of a global shutdown will likely lead to above average levels of inflation. Current inflation expectations are muted (measured by the spread on the 10 year TIPS and the 10 year treasury). Inflation may not take off, but it is wise to prepare for it and include annual increases on multiyear contracts or a CPI price adjustment each year.

Be nice

Most companies are beating up on their vendors right now, if for no reason other than this is 'what you do during a downturn.' It is worth exploring what your vendors can do for you, but this should be a partnership driven discussion. Invite your vendor in and explore how to reach a win-win during this time. Communicate often and clearly and try to their point of view. Larger companies have programs in place to help where smaller ones might not have as much flexibility. This downturn will pass, but how you treat people will have consequences.

Build flexibility into your growth plan

This environment is a great opportunity to add flexibility and optionality into your cost profile. Leveraging flexible development resources from a firm like Golden Section Technology can get you expert talent and execution with month-to-month flexibility. This will help you scale down if your survival plan kicks in, but it will also help you ensure the product keeps up with a successful sales push.

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Dougal Cameron is director of Houston-based Golden Section Venture Capital.

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City launches public dashboard for tracking COVID-19 in Houston's wastewater

data points

In 2020, a group of researchers began testing Houston's wastewater to collect data to help identify trends at the community level. Now, the team's work has been rounded up to use as an online resource.

The Houston Health Department and Rice University launched the dashboard on September 22. The information comes from samples collected from the city's 39 wastewater treatment plants and many HISD schools.

"This new dashboard is another tool Houstonians can use to gauge the situation and make informed decisions to protect their families," says Dr. Loren Hopkins, chief environmental science officer for the health department and professor in the practice of statistics at Rice University, in a news release. "A high level of virus in your neighborhood's wastewater means virus is spreading locally and you should be even more stringent about masking up when visiting public places."

The health department, Houston Water, Rice University, and Baylor College of Medicine originally collaborated on the wastewater testing. Baylor microbiologist Dr. Anthony Maresso, director of BCM TAILOR Labs, led a part of the research.

"This is not Houston's first infectious disease crisis," Maresso says in an earlier news release. "Wastewater sampling was pioneered by Joseph Melnick, the first chair of Baylor's Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology, to get ahead of polio outbreaks in Houston in the 1960s. This work essentially ushered in the field of environmental virology, and it began here at Baylor. TAILOR Labs is just continuing that tradition by providing advanced science measures to support local public health intervention."

It's an affordable way to track the virus, says experts. People with COVID-19 shed viral particles in their feces, according to the release, and by testing the wastewater, the health department can measure important infection rate changes.

The dashboard, which is accessible online now, is color-coded by the level of viral load in wastewater samples, as well as labeled with any recent trend changes. Houstonians can find the interactive COVID-19 wastewater monitoring dashboard, vaccination sites, testing sites, and more information at houstonemergency.org/covid19.

Rice University rises with massive $100M gift for innovative new student center

student centered

Rice University's Owls are soaring of late, with the school just being named the top in Texas and No. 7 in the U.S. Now, the institution known as the "Ivy League of the South" is the recipient of a mammoth gift aimed at a game-changing student center.

The Moody Foundation has granted Rice University a massive $100 million for its planned Moody Center for Student Life and Opportunity, which will replace Rice's current Memorial Center (RMC), and will become a new focal point for the university's 300-acre wooded campus, the school announced.

Notably, this new student center is designed by Sir David Adjaye of Adjaye Associates; the acclaimed architect's other works include the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Scheduled to break ground in early 2022 and construction completed in 2023, the brand-new Moody Center for Student Life and Opportunity will maintain some elements of the old RMC, namely the chapel and cloisters. Students and staff can expect demolition of the rest of the existing RMC, per a press release.

Moody's $100 million grant matches the record for the largest gift in the university's history. (Last year, the Robert A. Welch Foundation donated $100 million to the school to establish the innovation-driven Welch Institute.) The Moody Foundation has contributed over $125 million to Rice since 1964, a press release notes.

As part of the Moody $100 million gift, a new Moody Fund for Student Opportunity will support an endowment dedicated to student programs "physically anchored in the new student center and elsewhere in the university," according to the school.

All this supports Rice's recently announced plans for a 20-percent expansion of the undergraduate student body by fall 2025, as CultureMap previously reported.

"We are extremely grateful for this extraordinary philanthropy in support of Rice students," said Rice president David Leebron in a statement. "This gift will enable our students to broaden their engagements and experiences while at Rice in ways that will empower their success throughout their lives. It will also enable us to both connect more deeply with Houston and with the world. This will be the epitome of what an inclusive and outward-looking student center should be."

Elle Moody, a trustee of both the Moody Foundation and Rice, added: "As a Rice University alumna, I know this gift will have a profound and lasting effect on the campus and its students. This investment is supporting much more than just a building. We're investing in every student, so they have access to pursue any endeavor whether it's leadership, artistic, athletic, global or more."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.