"There's something magical happening in Houston, and [VCs] want a piece of it." Photo via Getty Images

Houston's seen a growth in startup and venture investment — even amid the pandemic — and a group of Houston innovators sat down for a virtual event to discuss what's lead to this evolution.

The Greater Houston Partnership hosted an installment of its Houston Industry Series focused on Digital Tech on Thursday, September 24. The panel of experts, moderated by Krisha Tracy of Google Cloud, discussed how they've observed the paradigm shift that's occurred in Houston over the past few years — and why.

Missed the discussion? Here are some significant overheard moments from the virtual event.

“I think there really is an interest for venture capital here, both locally and also welcoming it from outside of Houston. … There’s something magical happening in Houston, and [VCs] want a piece of it. I think that magical piece is a renewed interest in collaborating.”

Stephanie Campbell, managing director of Houston Angel Network and co-founder of The Artemis Fund. "I think a lot [of this progress] is due to the GHP, Houston Exponential, and the founding of the HX Venture Fund to bring those venture funds to Houston to say, 'what's happening here?'" Campbell adds, saying that this connectivity and collaboration that's happening in Houston VC is unique.

“I think there’s a misconception around all we do is oil and gas and life science in Houston, but when you think about what VC-backable companies look like, they’re tech, they’re B2B SaaS, they’re highly scalable, and they don’t tend to be capital-intensive types of things we see corporate venture backing.”

Campbell says, adding "the connectivity and the interest in VC is really taking off. It's an exciting time to be in Houston and Texas in general."

“Plug and Play’s ventures team is based in Silicon Valley and one thing they enjoy about meeting Houston-based founders is valuations tend to be more reasonable than in the Bay Area."

Payal Patel, director of Plug and Play Tech Center in Houston. "There are gems to be found," she adds.

“I don’t know what it is — if it’s something in the water or just Texans being very friendly, but the investors here share deal flow. It takes a village, and I think we all understand a rising tide lifts all boats."

Patel says on the collaborative nature of Houston. "It's really magical."

“What you’re witnessing is a city that has been waiting for industrial innovation to reach the point where it can be adopted at a really high scale, and that happened around 2017.”

Jon Nordby, managing director at MassChallenge Texas in Houston. Nordby adds that MassChallenge in Houston hasn't been keen on consumer tech, or the "grilled cheese delivery apps," as he describes. "We like companies that are in love with problems, not so much in love with solutions. … We build really meaningful tech."

“Over the last year or two, we’ve seen that sleeping giant get awoken. Open and external innovation is newly adopted by more legacy industries where it wasn’t before — and that’s just created a mountain of opportunities for startups and investors alike.”

Nordby says on the shift toward this meaningful, problem-solving technology, which Houston is full of, as he observes.

The SEC expanded its definition of accredited investors, so now is the time for potential venture capitalists and angels to step up. Pexels

Here's what the new SEC accredited investor definition means for potential Houston VCs

guest column

This month. the Security and Exchange Commission, or SEC, modified the definition of "accredited investor," with the effect of dramatically increasing the number of people eligible to participate in non-publicly traded investments.

The SEC definition of accredited investor establishes requirements for who may invest in private deals, startups, and private funds. These rules are meant to protect individuals from investing in assets that are high risk and have little publicly accessible information.

Historically, accredited investor status was limited to those that met certain wealth or income thresholds — specifically, a net worth of $1 million excluding primary residence, or $200,000 in annual income for an individual or $300,000 combined annual income for married couples. The SEC's thinking was that higher net worth individuals or higher earners likely have the sophistication to evaluate the risks and the ability to financially withstand potentially losing money they invested in a private investment.

However, with fewer companies going public and an increased interest in participating in private deals, startups, and funds many have suggested the accredited investor rule appeared more and more antiquated.

The SEC's new definition adds individuals with certain professional certifications (Series 7, Series 65, or Series 82 license) and "knowledgeable employees" at private funds, regardless of an individual's level of wealth or income.

Now, individuals with heavy involvement in and responsibility for investment activities and those with financial certifications are assumed to have the financial sophistication and ability to assess the risks of private investments. The SEC also added the clients and employees of family offices, which are investment arms of high net worth families. In addition, the SEC also expanded the married couples' income calculation to include "spousal equivalent" to capture non-married couples.

It remains to be seen whether these additions to the definition of accredited investors will add a significant number of new angel investors, as many of the individuals with such certifications already meet the previous net worth or income requirements. The startup ecosystem, however, has welcomed the move away from wealth and income criteria, as a good first step toward opening the private offering markets to more qualified individuals.

If you now find yourself meeting any of these qualifications of accredited investor, what now? The Houston Angel Network is a great resource to help you navigate these new waters, by providing a framework and network to learn how to evaluate investment opportunities. A common rule of thumb is that nine out of ten startups fail and will return zero dollars to investors. It is prudent to invest in several startups or through a fund with experienced and capable managers to get the needed diversification to expect a return on your investment in this asset class.

Angel networks throughout the country exist to educate accredited investors and provide a network of sophisticated and experienced individuals across industries to support due diligence. By working together and learning from experienced investors, newly accredited investors can avoid common investment mistakes and can develop skills to evaluate non-public investment opportunities.

The upshot of the expansion of accredited investors is that the SEC still expects such investors to be sophisticated and well educated about investment opportunities with high risks and rewards. Investors new to non-public markets should consider joining a network like the Houston Angel Network, where they can see hundreds of startups a year and learn from experienced investors.

Additionally, new accredited investors can engage in the local startup community by volunteering their services as a mentor at a local startup development organization like the Ion, Rice Alliance, Capital Factory, Mass Challenge, Plug and Play and many more. If you are considering investing in startups or a fund, please reach out to us at the Houston Angel Network for more ways to get involved and learn.

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Stephanie Campbell is managing director of Houston Angel Network and co-founder of The Artemis Fund.

We've got three female Houston innovators for you to know this week — Barbara Burger of Chevron Technology Ventures, Stephanie Campbell of the Houston Angel Network, and Sandy Guitar of the HX Venture Fund. Courtesy photos

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: This week's innovators to know installment includes a powerful trio of Houston investors who just also all happen to be women. Each also represents a different type of funding, from corporate venture to angel investing.

Barbara Burger, president of Chevron Technology Ventures

Barbara Burger, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, discusses Chevron's deal with The Ion and its commitment to Houston. Courtesy of CTV

Barbara Burger likes to tell the story of her first observation on the job at Chevron Technology Ventures.

"I did some homework and found out that we had more portfolio companies from Stavanger, Norway, than from Houston, Texas. And, that was a data point that, to be honest, baffled me a little," Burger tells InnovationMap. "And the more we've looked at that, we've said, we will invest around the globe, we will collaborate with all kinds of players, but how come there's no hometown advantage?"

Now, years later, Burger has advanced CTV to being a key player in the Houston innovation ecosystem, most recently joining as the first tenant at The Ion. Read more.

Stephanie Campbell, managing director of the Houston Angel Network

Stephanie Campbell has led HAN as managing director since 2018. Photo courtesy of HAN

For a couple decades, the Houston Angel network has existed to connect investors to startups, but the last few years the nonprofit has seen a remarkable growth in new members — and a pandemic isn't slowing HAN down, says Stephanie Campbell.

"Despite COVID, we've continued to grow," Campbell says, adding that she's heard investors express that they have more time now to dive in. "People are very much still interested in learning about deploying their capital into early-stage venture. They're looking for a network of like-minded individuals."

Campbell, who is also a founding partner at Houston-based Artemis Fund, actually says she's seen a demand for dealflow in Houston venture in general. Read more.

Sandy Guitar, managing director of the HX Venture Fund

Sandy Guitar — along with other Houston female venture capitalists — are gathering virtually to promote networking and friendship amid the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Sandy Guitar

By day, Sandy Guitar manages the HX Venture Fund — a fund of funds that is promoting out-of-town investment into Houston startups. But about a year and a half ago, she added an extracurricular activity: connecting Houston's female venture capitalists on both the professional and personal levels.

"There's a part of us as women that understands necessarily that work and life combine," Guitar says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Our lives as women don't allow us to segment our lives. The truth is those parts of our lives come together. The more we can do that, the more we can build networks that help us achieve everything we want both professionally and personally." Read more and stream the episode.

Over the past few years, the Houston Angel Network has doubled its members and continues to grow despite COVID-19's economic effects. Photo via Getty Images

Houston Angel Network sees membership growth amid pandemic

investing in investors

While the COVID-19 pandemic caused some investors to hit pause on some deals, the Houston Angel Network, which has doubled its membership over the past couple years, has maintained its deal flow and investment, while taking every opportunity to connect members virtually.

"Nothing's really changed — in terms of our activity — other than the fact that we can't meet in person," says Stephanie Campbell, managing director of HAN. "We quickly pivoted to virtual."

Campbell — who also is also a founding partner at Houston-based, female-focused venture capital group, The Artemis Fund — says she still saw the interest and need on each side of venture deals.

"What I realized was, especially working at a venture fund, the deal flow isn't going away. Companies still need capital — and investors are still interested in looking at deals," Campbell tells InnovationMap.

HAN, which was founded as a nonprofit in 2001, continues to be touted as among the most active angel network in the country. The organization has five industry groups that it focuses its deals on — energy, life sciences, technology, consumer products, and aerospace.

At each monthly meeting, members hear three pitches. However, Campbell is vetting many more companies far more deals and passing them along the network as she goes. All in all, HAN investors do around 100 deals a year with an average investment of $100,000.

Since Campbell joined in 2018, membership has doubled from 60 members to 120. Campbell says it's her goal to get to 150 members by the end of the year.

Stephanie Campbell has led HAN as managing director since 2018.

"Despite COVID, we've continued to grow," Campbell says, adding that she's heard investors express that they have more time now to dive in. "People are very much still interested in learning about deploying their capital into early-stage venture. They're looking for a network of like-minded individuals."

Campbell explains that, with the switch to virtual pitches and events, HAN is congregating more than ever. In the spring, Campbell introduced a thought leadership series, called Venture Vs. The Virus, that brought investment leaders together to discuss how the pandemic was affecting venture capital.

HAN is also using this time to better tap into technology to connect members with startups. On the back end, Campbell says, she's looking to enhance digital engagement with members and also improve data reporting within the organization.

From increasing networking and educational events and growing membership, HAN is prioritizing growing its place in the Houston innovation ecosystem. Campbell says she sees the pandemic is causing investors and tech talent on the coasts to re-evaluate where their living, and that's going to benefit Texas. Houston is going to see an influx of tech talent coming to town, and that's going to translate to more startups being founded locally.

"We want to make sure that we are a big part of this transition toward a more diverse and resilient economy," Campbell says. "Now's the time to lean in on Houston."

MassChallenge Texas named its top three startups of its inaugural Houston cohort and the Houston Angel Network made an unexpected investment. Courtesy of MassChallenge Texas

MassChallenge Texas wraps up inaugural Houston cohort with top 3 startups and a surprise investment

Cha-ching

A new-to-Houston global accelerator program just concluded its inaugural cohort, naming three top startups and providing a platform for an unexpected prize — an investment.

MassChallenge Texas didn't originally intend to have monetary prizes for this first program, however, thanks to Houston Angel Network, one lucky startup is walking away from the program $40,000 richer.

HAN, one of Houston's oldest and most active group of angel investors, saw pitch decks from most of the companies in the cohort and then invited seven companies to pitch: Ask DOSS, Celise, DoBrain, NeuroRescue, Noleus Technologies, Sensytec, and Swoovy.

At the September 5 startup showcase event, HAN named Houston-based Sensytec as the winner of the $40,000 investment prize.

The night's other big winners were MassChallenge's top three startups, program: NeuroRescue, Noleus Technologies, and Sensytec, which were selected from the top six startups that were announced a couple weeks in advance.

HAN engaged with the MassChallenge group in a few ways — like mentorship or presenting — but managing director Stephanie Campbell says she knew she wanted to discuss investment opportunities from the very beginning.

"I just think it's really important that when a new group like MassChallenge or any other accelerator come into town that we find ways to fold them into our community and help them be successful," she tells InnovationMap.

All of this year's cohort will receive 18 months of free coworking space — six months at MassChallenge, six months at The Cannon, and six months at Station Houston — and the top three startups will receive automatic entry into another MassChallenge cohort. Because no one won a cash prize from MassChallenge directly, all of the startups are eligible to reapply for another program.

"We wanted to make sure that the companies that went through the shortened version of the program this year have the ability to apply next year to any other program," MassChallenge Texas' Houston managing director, Jon Nordby, says.

Next time around, MassChallenge Texas will likely have a longer program with money on the table. That money would be provided by the organization's corporate partners. The city of Houston has put forth $2.5 million to be dealt out over five years, and Houston-based Reliant Energy has become a central partner to MassChallenge.

"We believe in supporting organizations that are pushing the boundaries and really making an impact in the community as well as the economy and the industry," says Elizabeth Killinger, president at NRG Retail and Reliant.

Killinger says next year she expects Reliant to be just as if not more involved with the process. Campbell too says HAN is interested in continuing its work with MassChallenge, and even sees it setting an example for other angel investors to get involved too.

"We're just planting the seed for the next cohort," Campbell says.

The Artemis Fund, which focuses on providing access to capital to women-led companies, made its first investment. Getty Images

New Houston venture capital firm makes first investment

Follow the money

The new female-founded venture capital fund that launched in Houston in April has made its first investment. The Artemis Fund led Burbank, California-based U-Nest's $2 million Seed round.

U-Nest is a user-friendly app that allows for users to create a 529 college savings plan in less than five minutes and $25. This tool provides access to financial tools that previously were only available to wealthy families who could afford financial advisers.

Syndicate partners, including The Draper Dragon Fund, Band of Angels, and Pasadena Angels, also contributed to the round.

"I'm very excited that The Artemis Fund has led my seed round because they've proven to be an amazing partner that brings a lot of value to the company beyond the money," says U-Nest founder, Ksenia Yudena, in a news release. "During the fundraising process, they made a lot of strategic introductions to the partners and advisers that helped us grow the business. They also coordinated the due diligence with other co-investors that made the process very smooth."

Prior to launching her startup, Yudena managed $1.2 bullion in business as vice president at Capital Group America Funds, and she has over 10 years of experience in financial services.

"I believe that we need more female led funds, because they understand the needs and struggles of the female founders," Yudena continues in the release. "We're on the same page in all matters related to the fundraising and building the successful company."

The Artemis Fund was founded by Stephanie Campbell, Leslie Goldman, and Diana Murakhovskaya, all of whom have years in investment experience from various institutions across the country and here in Houston. The three women wanted to provide a platform to funnel funds to female-founded startups that are constantly overlooked by other VC funds. Only 2 percent of funding from VC firms goes to women-led institutions, the release cites.

Goldman was introduced to the U-Nest team through one of the startup's advisers.

"We are thrilled to announce this as our first investment," Goldman says in the release. "We just need 14 more founders like Ksenia. With her drive, determination, deep expertise in this area, and her ability to attract top, seasoned talent, she sets the bar high for us as we look for additional portfolio companies."

U-Nest's mission of making financial information more accessible to families who need it most was especially attractive for the fund.

"Through her experience, [Yudena] saw a real world need for access to education planning and developed an incredibly impressive product to meet that need," Goldman continues in the release. "U-Nest squarely aligns with the Artemis thesis: stellar management team, traction with a product that will have tremendous impact on people's lives, scalable with a large addressable market opportunity, and a realistic exit strategy that can produce outsized returns."

Peter Mansfield serves as U-Nest's chief marketing officer and previously served as a consultant to Marqeta, which has a slew of successful clients — to the tune of Square, Affirm, DoorDash, Kabbage and Instacart — and recently closed a Series E valuation of $2 billion.

"We couldn't be more excited to have Artemis lead our round. From our first meeting it was clear that The Artemis Fund team understood our mission to eradicate the college loan crisis and shared our desire to champion women entrepreneurs," Mansfield says in the release. "The Artemis Fund is a perfect fit for U-Nest."

The Artemis Fund was founded by Diana Murakhovskaya (left), Leslie Goldman (center), and Stephanie Campbell.Courtesy of The Artemis Fund

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston's Brené Brown rises strong with new podcast and exclusive Spotify deal

now streaming

For two decades, renowned Houston thought leader and researcher Brené Brown has delved into the human condition, studying and exploring themes such as courage, vulnerability, empathy, and shame. Her work has made her a national figure as a five-time New York Times bestselling author and as a host of one of the most popular TED Talks of all time.

Now, Brown is leaping forward with her self-help work with an exclusive new multi-year deal with Spotify. The Houstonian will host a new podcast, "Dare to Lead," which will premiere exclusively on Spotify on October 19, according to a press release. Fans can also look for her beloved "Unlocking Us" podcast to move to Spotify in January 2021.

Brown said in a statement that it was "very important to me to build a podcast home where people could continue to listen for free."

In an added treat for those who love Yacht Rock (and who doesn't, frankly?), Brown is taking over Spotify's Yacht Rock Playlist and has added her favorite tunes (look for smart picks such as Christoper Cross, Doobie Brothers, TOTO, and more).

As for the podcast, "Dare to Lead" will feature conversations with "change-catalysts, culture-shifters and more than a few troublemakers who are innovating, creating, and daring to lead," according to a statement. It mirrors Brown's bestselling book of the same name.

"I've partnered with Spotify because I wanted a home for both podcasts," Brown added, "and I wanted it to be a place that felt collaborative, creative, adventurous, and full of music — like my actual house, where you'd find guitar stands in every room and framed pictures of everyone from Willie Nelson and Aretha Franklin to Freddy Fender, Mick Jagger, and Angus Young hanging on my walls."

When she's not overseeing her multimedia brand, podcasting, writing, hosting, and programming Spotify playlists, Brown serves as a research professor at the University of Houston where she holds the Huffington Foundation – Brené Brown Endowed Chair at The Graduate College of Social Work. She is also a visiting professor in management at The University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business.

She is also the author of four other No. 1 New York Times bestselling books, including The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and Braving the Wilderness. Her 2010 "The Power of Vulnerability" TED Talk has consistently been rated one of the top five most-watched of all time, with more than 50 million views. She is also the first researcher to have a filmed talk on Netflix; her "The Call to Courage" debuted on the streaming service in 2019.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston biotech company launches animal testing on a drug that could treat COVID-19

searching for a cure

A clinical stage pharmaceutical company based in Houston has entered into the next phase of testing out a drug that could be used to treat COVID-19.

Moleculin Biotech Inc. has tapped an independent lab to examine the antiviral activity of its WP1122 portfolio in a COVID-19 animal model. The drug was originally developed as a cancer-fighting glycolysis inhibitor and submitted for its COVID-19 treatment patent in April.

"With in vivo studies for the treatment of COVID-19 in such high demand, we are excited to begin an in vivo study involving our WP1122 portfolio," says Walter Klemp, chairman and CEO of Moleculin, in a press release. "Even though we may have initial observations earlier, having the final data readout in December will push the estimated window for filing an Investigational New Drug application into 2021.

"We are also planning to conduct other in vivo studies, intended to enable us to file a complete IND with the US Food and Drug Administration."

The in vivo study, which would use the lab's hamster model and SARS-CoV-2. Moleculin Biotech expects to have the data from the study in December.

"We are excited about the additional in vitro testing as this will involve more than one molecule from our WP1122 anitmetabolite portfolio against SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses," says Klemp.

Moleculin Biotech was founded by Klemp in 2007 and went public in 2016. The company is based in the Memorial Park area of Houston.