These five Houston startups are linking up industries and blockchain technology. Getty Images

Blockchain has really started to come into its own as more and more companies are applying the technology across industries — from oil and gas analytics and fundraising to even social media marketing.

Five Houston companies have made their mark on these different industries by incorporating this burgeoning technology.

Data Gumbo

Andrew Bruce had the idea for Data Gumbo when he realized how difficult it was to share data in upstream oil and gas. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

As the blockchain-as-a-service company's name suggests, Houston-based Data Gumbo is all about the data.

"The whole idea is to build out the blockchain network, and provide a network that they can subscribe to and start doing business on that network," Andrew Bruce, CEO of Data Gumbo, says. "It's a service, so there's a subscription fee. It gives them access to the savings they already have available within their organizations."

The company, which focuses on providing midstream and upstream oil and gas companies with timely decision-making information, was launched in 2016 and faced a big learning curve in the industry.

"We got a lot of questions and concerns about what blockchain is, why they need it, and whether or not they can trust it," Bruce says. "We were introducing a completely new concept to a conservative industry."

The industry is coming around as Data Gumbo grows its network and proves results.

Social Chains

Big companies are using your data to make a profit — but what if you got a kickback of that cash? That's what Houston-based Social Chains is trying to do. Pexels

When it comes to social media marketing, Houston-based Social Chains is putting the power back into the hands of users. Big social media companies, like Facebook, sell data about you to marketers and advertisers, and there's nothing you can do about it. Social Chains is a new platform where users own their own data and receive a cut of the payment.

"On our platform, the user is a stakeholder. Our platform distributes 50 percent of the profits to the users," Srini Katta, founder and CEO of the company, says.

Social Chains already has 5,000 users and, Katta says, that's with little to no marketing efforts. Currently, he's been working out a few kinks before launching into marketing for the platform, though he expects to do that beginning next month. Most of Social Chain's current users are high school to college students, so that will be the primary demographic for the marketing strategy.

Topl

Houston-based Topl can track almost anything using its blockchain technology. Courtesy of Topl

Blockchain, when applied to consumer products, can be used to complete the full picture of that product. A chocolate bar, for instance, can be traced from cacao farm to grocery store. Not only does the connected information keep each party accountable when it comes to prices, it tells a story.

"We are a generation that wants a story," says Kim Raath, CFO of Topl. "We want an origin, and don't want to be fooled. And, because you might be able to reduce the cost by having this transparency, you might be able to bring down the cost on both sides."

Topl, a Houston-based startup that was created by a few Rice University graduate and doctorate students, uses blockchain to connect the dots. One of the ways Topl's technology is being used is to track money. If an investor gives to a fund, and the fund gives to a startup, there's nothing to connect that first investor to the startup's success or to measure its impact. This is a tool used by investors or donors alike. For instance, if you were to create a scholarship, you can use Topl to track what student received that money and if they are meeting the required metrics for success.

Topl's 2019 focus is on growing its network and what it's able to provide its clients, like an app factory for companies trying to track specific things.

Iownit.us

The stock market has been using tech for years — why shouldn't the private sector have the same convenience? Getty Images

To Rashad Kurbanov, the private investment world was extremely backwards. While the stock market had been digitizing investment for years, private funds had a drawn out process of emails and meetings before moves were made. He thought introducing technology into the process could help simplify the investing for both sides of the equation.

"What we do, and where technology helps us, is we can take the entire process of receiving interest from investors, signing the transactions, issuing the subscription agreements, and processing the payments and put that all online," says Kurbanov, CEO and co-founder of Houston-based iownit.us.

The company is still seeking regulatory approval, but once that happens, the technology and platform will be ready to launch. The platform is a digital site that connects investors to companies seeking money. The investors can review the companies and contribute all online while being encrypted and protected by blockchain.

Houston Blockchain Alliance

blockchain

Here are some of the most common, misunderstood aspects about blockchain technology. Getty Images

The Houston Blockchain Alliance is a newly formed networking group for anyone working within or interested in the blockchain industry. Mahesh Sashital, co-founder of Smarterum, a blockchain news site, founded the organization late last year after realizing Houston was in need of an informative networking group.

"I thought that I'd start the Houston Blockchain Alliance so that someone like me, who's already in the industry, can find other people working in the industry," he says. "And for other people interested in blockchain can learn more and get up to speed with the technology."

The alliance aims to host regular events — its launch event is Feb. 20 — and educate people on blockchain. Click here to read Sashital's guest column about common blockchain misunderstandings.


Tech startups are popping up across industries from real estate to oil and gas, and these three founders are among the leaders in technology. Courtesy images

3 Houston tech innovators to know this week

Who's who

Often, technology and innovation are mistaken for each other. While not mutually exclusive, both tech and innovation work well together in Houston across all industries — from oil and gas to real estate and social media. These three founders engaged technology for their individual startups.

Srini Katta, founder and CEO of Social Chains

Courtesy of Social Chains

As a social media user, your data is already out there and being used for marketing purposes. But, rather than the Facebooks or Googles of the world making a profit, Srini Katta wanted to create a platform where users made a profit off their own data.

"On our platform, the user is a stakeholder. Our platform distributes 50 percent of the profits to the users," he says.

Social Chains already has 5,000 users and, Katta says, that's with little to no marketing efforts, which Katta is about to launch.

Martin Kay, founder and CEO of Entera Technology

Courtesy of Entera

Martin Kay, who splits his time between Houston and the Bay Area for his startup Entera Technologies, knew there had to be a better way for people searching for a home to buy. He drew a comparison between homebuyers and Netflix viewers to create Entera's software.

"We're a little bit like Netflix," he says. "They go out and get content from everyone, and they begin to watch your behavior. So, Netflix has 2,000 profiles and you probably fit five or six of those. We have almost 100 profiles and what we do is say, we're going to understand what you want, watch your behavior and instead of giving you 40,000 properties on a big map, we actually match you based on your preferences, to the five or six houses that are best for you."

Houston-based Entera has grown as the platform loads more and more data for its users to engage with.

Luther Birdzell, CEO and founder of OAG Analytics

Courtesy of OAG Analytics

Luther Birdzell always knew he wanted to run his own company, but the software and analytics professional worked in various industries before realizing that oil and gas had a huge opportunity for savings using analytics. He founded OAG Analytics in 2013 to help provide a solution for these companies.

"When I founded OAG Analytics, our mission then — and still is today — was to build a platform for the upstream oil and gas industry that enables them to manage their data, introduces world-class machine learning in minutes without having to write a single line of code, and allow them to run simulations on the resulting analysis," Birdzell says.

The company has grown to 25 employees and tripled its revenue last year. The team is forecasting another year of high grow for 2019.


Big companies are using your data to make a profit — but what if you got a kickback of that cash? That's what Houston-based Social Chains is trying to do. Pexels

Houston startup aims to flip the script on social media marketing

anti social media

Social media companies are using user data for their own financial gain, but what if users had a cut in the profits? That's the business model for Houston-based Social Chains.

"Social Chains is a social media platform of real people, real privacy, and real rewards," says Srini Katta, founder and CEO of the company. "We're fixing three problems in the social media industry."

The first problem is that user data has market value, but only the Facebook, Google, and other platforms are reaping the rewards, not the user, who's the backbone of the platform. User privacy and a growing number of fake accounts are the other issues Social Chains addresses. Katta says he realized that most importantly, users should own their data

"On our platform, the user is a stakeholder. Our platform distributes 50 percent of the profits to the users," he says.

User privacy is protected and encrypted on this new platform, and users must register with a government-issued identification. Social Chains prevents fake accounts by using facial recognition.

The biggest differentiating factor of this platform is that users make real money, but it's kept track by the site's token system, which uses blockchain technology, and users receive some of the so-called "S tokens" just for signing up. And, businesses only pay for the ads that users engage with. For instance, for a marketing email, businesses will only pay for the emails that were actually opened. It's a win-win situation, as the user receives a kickback whenever they open a marketing email or engage with ads.

Social Chains already has 5,000 users and, Katta says, that's with little to no marketing efforts. Currently, he's been working out a few kinks before launching into marketing for the platform, though he expects to do that beginning next month. Most of Social Chain's current users are high school to college students, so that will be the primary demographic for the marketing strategy.

Katta says he first encountered some of the challenges using social media marketing at one of his former startups when attempting to use Facebook ads to grow the company. He says he saw increased engagement, but not as significant of an increase in sign ups on his company page.

"We looked back to see who are the people clicking on the ads," he says. "We looked at their profiles, and they were not from the United States, even though we had given geographic preferences."

He found out that third party ad management platforms were working with Facebook and click farms all around the world to increase engagement results. Katta starting thinking of a solution for this marketing problem.

"Then, in 2016, with the rise of 'fake news,' we realized this was a bigger problem," he says.

In addition to user growth, Katta hopes to grow his investors, and the company is seeking funds for its seed round in 2019.

"To be honest, we need $100 million to build this out, so we're trying to raise money," Katta says. "Personally, I've put in $3.5 million before I took any money from investors. I have a lot of skin in the game."

Currently, Social Chains has three team members, with a fourth joining soon. Diane Yoo, who is a founding member and director of the Rice Angel Network, leads growth and investor relations for the company. One obstacle for the team has been being spread out from Houston to The Woodlands and even Austin.

"I've lived in New York and San Francisco. I moved to Houston because I wanted a quiet place to raise my family," Katta says. "The biggest challenge for Houston, compared to other cities, is other cities are so dense. Houston is so sprawling. It's really hard to network, and meet potential employees."

One of the crucial connectors for Katta has been Station Houston. The team plans on meeting to work together two days a week at Station. In addition to being a great workspace, the area acts as a good hub for potential partnerships for Social Chains. Startups need marketing, of course.

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Rice Alliance event identifies 4 most-promising energy tech companies at CERAWeek

startups to watch

Wondering what energy tech companies you should keep an eye on? Wonder no more.

As a part of 2021 CERAWeek by IHS Markit, the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship hosted a virtual pitch competition today featuring 20 companies in four sessions. Each entrepreneur had four minutes to pitch, and then a few more to take questions from industry experts.

"Of the companies here today, we've intentionally selected a diverse group," says Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance at the start of the event. "They range from companies looking for their seed funding to companies that have raised $20 million or more."

The following companies pitched at the event: 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.

At the end of each session, attendees voted via Zoom poll on which startup had the most potential. According to the event attendees, the most promising energy tech companies are:

REVOLUTION Turbine Technologies

Asheville, North Carolina-based REVOLUTION Turbine Technologies is working to "put a green spin on power." The company's micro-Expansion Turbine System produces green power for digital oilfield and pipeline initiatives through the recovery of excess natural gas pressure.

"RTT's technology provides a scalable, clean energy source to reliably power digital oilfield and pipeline initiatives at a significantly low operating cost," says Christopher Bean, founder and CEO, in his presentation. "Never has it been more important to make production and pipeline operations greener, safer, and efficient."

Connectus Global

Connectus Global, based in Calgary, provides custom technology solutions that can increase productivity, profits, and competitiveness. Connectus' Real-Time Location System, or RTLS, uses Ultra-Wide Band for communication and triangulation while hosting a Radio Frequency Identification Device, which come in the form of badges, tags, and receivers.

"In our first year, we received $800,000 in revenue and are on track to hit our numbers — $3.6 million — at the end of this fiscal year," says Mike Anderson, CEO of the company, in his presentation." We have a global white labeling agreement with Honeywell and we make up about 75 percent of their digitized workforce management portfolio."

The company's U.S. office is located in Houston.

DrillDocs

Houston-based DrillDocs has created an automated drilling cuttings characterization service, called CleanSight, that supports an operator's understanding of their wellbore's state of stability and cleanness in real time.

"We're taking computer vision to the drilling rig," says Calvin Holt, CEO and co-founder at DrillDocs, in his presentation. "Now for the first time, drilling and geomechanics teams will have unique, real-time data to ascertain the well's condition."

Revterra

Revterra, a Houston-based company and inaugural Greentown Houston member company, is creating a flywheel energy storage system for long-duration grid-scale applications.

"For those of us in Texas, the power outages we experienced a couple weeks ago are a stark reminder that the stability and the resiliency of our electric grid should be a top priority as we transition to low-emission power sources," says Ben Jawdat, founder and CEO at Revterra, in his presentation. "Energy storage is a critical element in both grid stability and enabling our transition to sustainable energy."

Houston makes top 10 list for major metros based on startup growth

by the numbers

Houston is a bustling hub for startup activity — and the numbers don't lie.

A new ranking from real estate investment marketplace Roofstock places Houston at No. 10 among the major U.S. metro areas with the highest rates of startup formation. Roofstock's ranking, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, puts the Houston area's startup formation rate at 9.48 percent. The startup formation rate refers to the number of new businesses in a given year divided by the total number of businesses.

Here's the other Houston startup data cited by Roofstock:

  • Annual number of startup formations: 9,214
  • Annual number of jobs created by startups: 55,475
  • Number of jobs created by startups as a share of all new jobs: 14.44 percent

"In the past years, Houston has seen a massive burst in its startup ecosystem. … Houston is one of the best places in the United States for entrepreneurs to launch and grow a business," Houston-based app developer Bixlabs says.

As a matter of fact, the Houston area's ratio of new business founders to total business founders stood at a healthy 21 percent as of December 2020, according to career website LinkedIn. Houston was sandwiched between Salt Lake City (26 percent) and Dallas-Fort Worth (20 percent). Also in 2020 and 2019, Houston ranked sixth on a list published by residential real estate platform Clever of the most affordable U.S. metros for startups.

"Considering Houston's metro is tied with San Antonio's for the highest average investment in small business, and the proximity to great food, the Gulf of Mexico coast, and attractions like Minute Maid Park and the NASA Space Center, we would definitely suggest considering starting a business here," Clever says.

Two other Texas metros appear on Roofstock's list — Austin at No. 3 (startup formation rate of 10.61 percent) and Dallas-Fort Worth at No. 5 (startup formation rate of 9.82 percent).

Here's the additional data for the Austin metro area:

  • Number of annual startup formations: 3,858
  • Number of annual new jobs created by startups: 21,357
  • Number of jobs created by startups as a share of all new jobs: 16.49 percent

Here's the additional data for the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area:

  • Number of annual startup formations: 10,731
  • Number of annual new jobs created by startups: 69,696
  • Number of jobs created by startups as a share of all new jobs: 15.11 percent

The Las Vegas metro area holds the No. 1 spot on the Roofstock list, with a startup formation rate of 11.44 percent.

Houston venture capitalist says it's time for more women in VC

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 73

In all the turmoil of 2020, Samantha Lewis had at least one silver lining. The former director of Goose Capital transitioned into her new position as principal at Mercury Fund.

However fortunate she feels to have her new position, she shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast this week that there's not nearly enough of women like her in venture capital.

"The bottom line is there has to be more women with check-writing abilities," Lewis says on the show. "And when there is more women with check-writing abilities, more women will get funded."

Joining the podcast at the start of Women's History Month, Lewis says that the pandemic disproportionately affected women's careers across the board — but when it comes to VC, the solution is growing the female representation at firms.

"It is up to the people in VC hiring or the institutional investors who are giving money to funds to make sure there's a woman on the investment team," she says — adding that just one isn't enough.

In her role at Mercury, Lewis is helping build up the fund's processes — something she specialized in at Goose. She's also focused on building up the portfolio around a specific theme.

"One of the things specifically that Mercury brought me over to focus on from an investment perspective is something we're calling our 'power theme,'" Lewis says. "Think about it as giving people the power to make decisions that are authentic to their values around sustainability and impact."

There have been significant changes in consumer values driven by millennials, and businesses are prioritizing sustainability and transparency in order to keep up. Lewis discusses how Houston-based Topl, which is one of Mercury's portfolio companies, has a major role to play in this space.

Another key area of interest for Lewis is fintech.

"The other piece of the theme is thinking about the democratization of financial services," Lewis says. "Legacy financial institutions have ignored large groups of our population here in America and broader for a very long time. Technology is actually breaking down a lot of those barriers, so there are all these groups that have traditionally been ignored that now technology can reach to help them build wealth."

Lewis discusses more about how Mercury Fund is at an inflection point and how the Houston innovation ecosystem is developing with intention on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.