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

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.

HighRadius, a SaaS fintech company and Houston's first unicorn, has expanded in Europe. Getty Images

Houston fintech software startup expands with new German office

unicorn on the move

A growing Houston fintech software-as-a-service startup has announced that it's opening an additional European office following reaching unicorn status earlier this year.

HighRadius, which has a software that automates key treasury management processes, is opening an office in Frankfurt, Germany, the company announced today.The news comes after the company has posted triple-digit year-over-year growth, according to a press release. HighRadius boasts of 25 new customers and a 250 percent increase in bookings over the past year.

"Frankfurt's position in central Germany makes other parts of the country readily accessible, and its status as the financial center of the country opens up a gateway to a deep pool of talent and relevant partnerships," says Jon Keating, HighRadius' Vice President and General Manager, EMEA, in a news release.

The company, which achieved unicorn status with a $1 billion valuation following a $125 million raise in January, opened an office in Amsterdam last year and has had its London office since 2017. According to the release, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria are territories with major market opportunities. The Frankfurt office will house sales, pre-sales, marketing, and consulting employees.

HighRadius's technology is relevant amid the COVID-19 pandemic more than ever as its clients are in need of safe and easy remote technology and automation to prevent delays in accounts receivable. Last month, the SaaS company launched new technology to help with this need: the RadiusOne A/R Suite for mid-sized businesses.

"We launched the RadiusOne B2B Network to facilitate suppliers and A/R teams to digitally connect with their buyers and A/P teams for faster processing of receivables and payments. Currently, the network has millions of active businesses," says Sashi Narahari, founder and CEO of HighRadius, in a news release. "The RadiusOne A/R Suite will provide the essential apps for A/R teams at mid-sized businesses to instantly plug their ERPs and A/R processes into this network and digitally connect with their buyers across the globe."

Travis Parigi, founder and CEO of LiquidFrameworks, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he's navigating both a global pandemic and an oil downturn. Photo courtesy of LiquidFrameworks

Houston entrepreneur is helping his oil and gas clients get 'out of the paper world'

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 36

Travis Parigi isn't afraid of an oil downturn. His company, LiquidFrameworks, provides cloud-based, mobile field operations management solutions to oil and gas, environmental, and industrial service companies, and he usually expects drilling numbers to slow every five to seven years or so. In fact, he plans on it and prepares accordingly.

"We've seen these types of challenges in the past within the oil and gas space — it is cyclical based on commodities," Parigi explains on thi week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We're well positioned to weather these storms."

But Parigi couldn't have foreseen the effect on demand a global pandemic could cause the oil and gas industry, and while he says he's keeping a close eye on the market, he also is trying to communicate with customers and potential customers how his software is even more important in times like these.

"What we're really focused on doing is making sure that our customers charge for everything that they have contracted with their customer and make sure there are no mistakes or errors in the billings and invoices that they send out," Parigi says. "Ultimately it increases their cash flow and makes them more efficient — it gets them out of the paper world."

Parigi shares his biggest concerns about the oil and gas market and how he's looking into partnering with another Houston energy tech startup, Data Gumbo, on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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5 can't-miss innovation events at CERAWeek featuring Houston speakers

where to be online

While usually hundreds of energy experts, C-level executives, diplomats, members of royal families, and more descend upon Houston for the the annual CERAWeek by IHS Markit conference, this year will be a little different. Canceled last year due to COVID-19, CERAWeek is returning — completely virtually.

The Agora track is back and focused on innovation within the energy sector. The Agora track's events — thought-provoking panels, intimate pods, and corporate-hosted "houses" — can be accessed through a virtual atrium.

Undoubtedly, many of the panels will have Houston representatives considering Houston's dominance in the industry, but here are five innovation-focused events you can't miss during CERAWeek that feature Houstonians.

Monday — New Horizons for Energy & Climate Research

The COVID-19 pandemic has made vivid and real the risks of an uncontrolled virus. Risks posed by climate change are also becoming more palpable every day. At the forefront of understanding these risks, universities are developing solutions by connecting science, engineering, business, and public policy disciplines. Along with industry and governments, universities are critical to developing affordable and sustainable solutions to meet the world's energy needs and achieve net-zero emission goals. Can the dual challenge of more energy and lower emissions be met? What is some of the most promising energy and climate research at universities? Beyond research, what are the roles and responsibilities of universities in the energy transition?

Featuring: Kenneth B. Medlock, III, James A. Baker, III, and Susan G. Baker Fellow In Energy And Resource Economics, Baker Institute and Senior Director, Center For Energy Studies at Rice University

Catch the panel at 1 pm on Monday, March 1. Learn more.

Tuesday — Conversations in Cleantech: Powering the energy transition

With renewables investment outperforming oil and gas investment for the first time ever in the middle of a pandemic, 2020 was a tipping point in the Energy Transition. Low oil prices intensified energy majors' attention on diversification and expansion into mature and emerging clean technologies such as battery storage, low-carbon hydrogen, and carbon removal technologies. Yet, the magnitude of the Energy Transition challenge requires an acceleration of strategic decisions on the technologies needed to make it happen, policy frameworks to promote public-private partnerships, and innovative investment schemes.

Three Cleantech leaders share their challenges, successes, and lessons learned at the forefront of the Energy Transition. What is their vision and strategy to accelerate lowering emissions and confronting climate change? Can companies develop clear strategies for cleantech investments that balance sustainability goals and corporate returns? What is the value of increasing leadership diversity for energy corporations? Can the Energy Transition be truly transformational without an inclusive workforce and a diverse leadership?

Featuring: Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, which is opening a location in Houston this year.

The event takes place at 11:30 am on Tuesday, March 2. Learn more.

Wednesday — Rice Alliance Venture Day at CERAWeek

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship pitch event will showcase 20 technology companies with new solutions for the energy industry. Each presentation will be followed by questions from a panel of industry experts.

Presenting Companies: Acoustic Wells, ALLY ENERGY, Bluefield Technologies, Cemvita Factory, Connectus Global, Damorphe, Ovopod Ltd., DrillDocs, GreenFire Energy, inerG, Locus Bio-Energy Solutions, Nesh, Pythias Analytics, REVOLUTION Turbine Technologies, Revterra, ROCSOLE, Senslytics, Subsea Micropiles, Syzygy Plasmonics, Transitional Energy, and Universal Subsea.

The event takes place at 9 am on Wednesday, March 3. Learn more.

Thursday — How Will the Energy Innovation Ecosystem Evolve?

Although the cleantech innovation ecosystem—research institutions, entrepreneurs, financiers, and support institutions—is diverse and productive, converting cleantech discoveries and research breakthroughs into commercially viable, transformative energy systems has proven difficult. With incumbent energy systems economically efficient and deeply entrenched, cleantech innovation faces a fundamental dilemma—the scale economies necessary to compete require a large customer base that does not yet exist. How is our clean energy innovation ecosystem equipped to be transformative? What needs to be strengthened? Is it profitable to focus on individual elements, or should we consider the system holistically, and reframe our expectations?

Featuring: Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president at Chevron Technology Ventures

The event takes place at 7:30 am on Thursday, March 4. Learn more.

Friday — Cities: Managing crises & the future of energy

Houston is the capital of global energy and for the past four decades the home of CERAWeek. Mayor Sylvester Turner will share lessons from the city's experience with the pandemic, discuss leadership strategies during times of crisis, and explore Houston's evolving role in the new map of energy.

The event takes place at 8 am on Friday, March 5. Learn more.

Rice University develops 2 new innovative tools to detect COVID-19

pandemic tech

Rice University is once again spearheading research and solutions in the ongoing battle with COVID-19. The university announced two developing innovations: a "real-time sensor" to detect the virus and a cellphone tool that can detect the disease in less than an hour.

Sensing COVID
Researchers at Rice received funding for up to $1 million to develop the real-time sensor that promises to detect minute amounts of the airborne virus.

Teams at Rice and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston are working to develop a thin film electronic device that senses as few as eight SARS-CoV-2 viruses in 10 minutes of sampling air flowing at 8 liters per minute, per a press release.

Dubbed the Real-Time Amperometric Platform Using Molecular Imprinting for Selective Detection of SARS-CoV-2 (or, RAPID), the project has been funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Rice notes. Further funding will be contingent upon a successful demonstration of the technology.

Attacking with an app
Meanwhile, the university announced that its engineers have developed a plug-in tool that can diagnose COVID-19 in around 55 minutes. The tool utilizes programmed magnetic nanobeads and a tool that plugs into a basic cellphone.

First, a stamp-sized microfluidic chip measures the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein in blood serum from a standard finger prick.

Then, nanobeads bind to SARS-CoV-2 N protein, a biomarker for COVID-19, in the chip and transport it to an electrochemical sensor that detects minute amounts of the biomarker. Paired with a Google Pixel 2 phone and a plug-in tool, researchers quickly secured a positive diagnosis.

This, researchers argue, simplifies sample handling compared to swab-based PCR tests that must be analyzed in a laboratory.

"What's great about this device is that it doesn't require a laboratory," said Rice engineer Peter Lillehoj in a statement. "You can perform the entire test and generate the results at the collection site, health clinic or even a pharmacy. The entire system is easily transportable and easy to use."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.