When it comes to venture capital invested in the first quarter of 2019, Houston raked in less than 10 percent of what Austin reported, but the state as a whole has seen an increase, according to Crunchbase. Getty Images

While the state marked significant growth in first quarter venture capital investments year over year, Houston fell far behind its Texas sister cities. Houston startups received just 10 percent of what Austin startups reported, and Houston lost its lead it's had on Dallas for two quarters, according to Crunchbase data.

Texas had a reported $790.4 million in Q1, per Crunchbase, which is up from Q4 2018's $530.6 million as well as being up year over year from $587.2 million in Q1 of 2018. The number of deals for the state was cut almost by half — 64 Q1 2019 deals compared to 118 in Q1 of 2018 — "indicating larger investment sizes as the state's startup market continues to mature," according to Crunchbase's Mary Ann Azevedo.

Meanwhile in Houston, the city's startups received $44.7 million of that reported investment last quarter, which is down from the $121.4 million reported in Q4 2018. Austin raked in $493.8 million — more than 10 times that of Houston — and Dallas reported $245.4 million, which more than doubles what they reported for Q4 of 2018.

Houston lost its lead it had on Dallas for the past two quarters. In Q4 of 2018, Houston outdid Dallas with $121 million in venture capital investment, according to Crunchbase. Before that, Houston crushed Dallas in the third quarter too with $138.8 million compared to Dallas' $38.1 million. That quarter was when Houston came close to Austin's VC funding.

The largest deal in Houston was for biotech startup, Solugen, which closed its $13 million Series A in March, Cruncbase reported, and Y Combinator contributed to the round.

The Crunchbase report mentioned a few huge deals that tipped the scale this time around for Austin and Dallas. Dallas-based Peloton Therapeutics closed a $150 million Series E round in February. In Austin, Disco — a company founded in Houston but relocated to Austin — closed a $83 million Series E round, and Austin's Billd drew in $60 million in a Series A.

Houston's cut shrinks

Houston's piece of the Texas VC pie continues to shrink. In Q3 2018, the city had a third of the funds and, in Q4, had over 20 percent.Via Crunchbase News

Dallas is back at No. 2

Dallas came back with a vengeance after being outdone by Houston for the past two quarters.Via Crunchbase News

LiveOak Venture Partners, an Austin-based firm, is the first recipient of Houston Exponential's fund of funds. Courtesy of LiveOak

Houston venture fund of funds doles out $5 million in Austin firm in its first investment

money moves

After closing its initial round of funding last year, Houston Exponential's fund of funds, called the HX Venture Fund, has closed its first investment on March 29. Austin-based LiveOak Venture Partners received a $5 million investment from the fund.

The HX Venture Fund raised $30 million after launching in October of last year. The fund's goal is to invest in out-of-Houston venture funds in the hopes that they reinvest that money into Houston startups.

"We invested in LiveOak Venture II because of the firm's compelling investment track record, expertise and vigor of the general partners, their extensive network of relationships with proven entrepreneurs, and their focus on capital efficient early stage technology companies in Texas," says Guillermo Borda, managing partner at HX Venture Fund, in a release. "LiveOak's team is committed to making a significant impact in the Houston startup ecosystem."

The HX investment is a part of LiveOak's Fund II, which was oversubscribed and closed at $105 million, the company announced today. According to a release from LiveOak, Fund II is a continuation to the firm's dedication to Texas entrepreneurship. The fund will focus on funding within the state's four largest tech hubs — Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio — and have initial investments ranging from $2 million to $4 million, the release states.

The firm's portfolio focuses on seed and series A funding, and most of its investments are Austin-based, with the exception of three Dallas companies. LiveOak invested in Houston-founded CS Disco, an AI-enabled tool for legal business, but the company has since moved to Austin, according to a public relations representative. LiveOak also invested in San Antonio-founded Infocyte, but the company also relocated to Austin.

Houston has been a strategic market for LiveOak, says managing partner, Krishna Srinivasan, in the release, citing the city's recent entrepreneurial activity.

"We are excited to partner with HX Venture Fund and its strategic investment partners, comprising multiple leading Houston based corporations, to catalyze and grow this activity," says Srinivasan, in the release. "Given LiveOak's investment strategy of being the leading source of capital for entrepreneurs across Texas, we view this investment as highly synergistic with our efforts to enable world-class, category dominating companies coming out of Houston."

HX modeled its fund after the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund in Michigan, from which 10 outside venture capital firms benefitted. Renaissance Fund reported positive results from the fund of funds and Chris Rizik, CEO and fund manager of Renaissance, serves as a member of the investment committee.

Texas venture capital deals had its first spike in volume last year since 2013. Getty Images

Report finds Houston venture capital firm has made the most Texas deals since 2010

At the top

When it comes to tracking venture capital deals coming out of Texas since 2010, a Houston fund tops the list — but just barely. Houston Angel Network edged out Austin-based Central Texas Angel Network by one deal.

The report by PitchBook counted deals from 2010 up to March 4 that were made with Texas companies. Ten VC funds were listed and, aside from HAN, Mercury Fund was the only other Houston VC. The other eight funds are located central Texas — with the exception of Right Side Capital Management, which has invested in 45 Texas companies since 2010.

"Texas is currently in a transition powered by high-tech investments that lie in contrast to the slow-paced cattle ranches spread throughout the rural areas of the country's 28th state," the report states. "Partly as a result of the relatively new tech scene, Texas was home to three of the 10 fastest-growing cities in the United States in 2018, according to Forbes."

According to the data, VC funding had been on a downward trend since 2013, when the state raked in $2.83 billion in 536 deals. However, 2018 marked a turn for the state with $3.11 billion in 461 deals — a smaller deal count compared to 2013.

Despite this VC deal growth, compared to the rest of the country, Texas ranks fourth when it comes to VC investment market share. California holds over 52 percent of the market, New York has over 10 percent, and Massachusetts has almost 10 percent itself, per PitchBook data. Meanwhile, Texas reportedly holds only 3.43 percent of the market.

PitchBook also identified the top 10 VC deals investing in Texas companies closed since the beginning of 2018 — none of which were into Houston companies. The list's top three had nine-figure investments — Austin-based Bungalo with a $250 million Series A, Dallas-based Peloton Therapeutics with a $150 million Series E, and Richardson, Texas-based Hedera Hashgraph with a $101 million Seed round.

Graph via PitchBook

Texas startups should be getting funded with Texas money, and here's why. Getty Images

Why it's important for Texas startups to get funding within the Lone Star State

Stay local

When you set out to disrupt a long-standing industry, one of the most important aspects is figuring out where you are going to get the money. Odds are, you are going to be OK with breaking the mold on other traditional practices such as forgoing the venture capitalist firms for smaller companies who share your innovative vision and want to invest in it.

That philosophy works well in Texas seeing as the big venture capitalists tend to stay on the East and West Coasts.

There are dozens of things to think about when starting a company. Funding can be the most important, and there are many ways to approach raising funding for your startup. Here are a few things to consider.

Think local

They say everything is bigger in Texas, and one thing is for certain, the Texas economy is thriving and historically very stable. Five of the top 10 fastest-growing cities in the U.S. are in Texas, and a recent Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas report found that Texas is the top state for corporate relocations due to our business-friendly climate.

Benefits of the Texas economy

Business owners and investors alike are noticing the rapid job growth, low tax rates, minimal regulation, successful economic development, and the fact that Texas is the largest exporting state in the nation.

It's important to explore and evaluate all of your options because there are investors everywhere – big and small. I explored fundraising in other states and had I gone that route, it most likely would have led to a successful fundraising campaign. However, it would have looked a lot different. I learned during the first round of fundraising that as much as the angel investment matters, the first meaningful investment might matter even more.

Explore family office investors — it's personal

Traditionally, companies looking for investors seek out the venture capitalist firms with deep pockets. You can joke that Texas is a venture capitalist desert. Compared to the "coasts," there are not many venture capitalist firms here.

I realized that what Texas does have plenty of, is family office investors. And I quickly learned that it was this type of organization that I truly desired. Why? Because local family offices are more likely to share your "homegrown" startup vision. They have true vested interest and it is really personal for them.

Also, the younger generations of these family businesses often lead the way in extending beyond oil wells, fracking, shopping centers and agriculture in seeking to invest in technology startups.

Expert tip: We used our personal connections to target regional investors such as Court Wescott; the founder of 1-800-Flowers; retired Hollywood Casinos CEO Jack Pratt; The Murchison Family; and residential real estate developer Phillip Huffines. We were able to successfully reach around $12 million in the Series A round of fundraising.

When we were ready for the next round of fundraising, we had everything we needed right here in Texas.

Great ideas get funded

Venture capitalists who put a lot of money into a lot of companies also delegate to those companies a lifespan, or a timeline for getting their money back.

Since the family offices believed in our concept and understood what we were doing, we were seen as more of a long-term investment and therefore given a longer time horizon than we would if we had gone the more traditional route of fundraising.

Investors like to watch their investments grow and typically they have more money for second and third rounds of funding when you can prove your success in the first few years.

The bottom line: Investing in Texas companies is a beneficial strategy due to the Lone Star State's booming economy and investing in companies that you believe in makes for a more meaningful relationship, which helps everyone involved succeed.

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Alex Doubet is the CEO and founder of Door Inc., a Texas-based, tech-infused real estate platform.

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Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.