A Houston company has raised additional funding as it grows its encrypted lodging booking platform. Photo via Gustavo Fring/Pexels

A travel booking technology company that's looking to alleviate some of the stresses of finding and making hotel reservations has raised additional seed funding.

Houston-based Pinktada has raised additional funding to the tune of $975,000. Ireland-based Selenean Capital contributed to the seed funding round, joining the company's previous investor True Global Ventures 4 Plus, which has invested $2 million to date. According to Crunchbase data, the latest investment brings the company's total to $3.9 million.

“Selenean Capital’s approach to partnership is identifying real world future needs and then working relentlessly to achieve those goals," says Davin Browne, Selenean’s CEO, in a news release. "Pinktada encapsulates this perfectly with a transformational approach to the hotel booking model built around a brilliant team. We look forward to the partnership and journey with them."

Founded in 2020, Pinktada launched its booking platform earlier this year. The technology — backed by NFT encryption — allows users to sell or trade existing lodging reservations. As many hotels and third-party booking sites offer cheaper non-refundable booking options, Pinktada gives travelers a secure alternative if their plans change. The company's hotel partners can benefit from the transactions, too, per the company's statement.

“We are thrilled with the market validation we are receiving,” says Mark J. Gordon, chief hospitality officer, in the release. “We launched in May with properties in Hawaii and the Dominican Republic, have since added exquisite hotels in Mexico, New York, Miami and San Francisco, and have another 18 in the process of being on-boarded. More important though is the caliber of our partners, which are leading hotel industry names.”

According to the company, membership grew 20 percent in August and 40 percent in September as the platform added new hotel partners.

“We could not be more excited about our prospects," says Lyon Hardgrave, Pinktada’s CEO, in the release. “This investment reflects the significant progress we have made this year. It will allow us to accelerate the onboarding of new hotels, dial up marketing efforts, and continue to evolve our technology to embrace other large opportunities.”

B2B travel company grows its Houston presence

travel tech

Real-time inventory software enables travelers to book a last minute flight and have their boarding passes in hand at security a few minutes later. But that technology isn't utilized in other aspects of a vacation — tour companies, for example. That's where San Francisco-based Xola comes in.

Scott Zimmerman and his co-founder Anush Ramani realized real-time technology was a glaring hole in a multi-billion-dollar business. It's why they founded Xola, a booking and marketing software system designed for tour and activity companies.

"So many smaller tour companies operate with pen and paper," Zimmerman explained. "And for many cities and countries, tourism is the number-two or number-three industry — it's a huge driver of economic growth. It's a $120 billion global market."

They created Xola as a B2B solution that created a platform for operators to promote their offerings, and allow customers to purchase tours and activities. Meanwhile, Xola's custom-design software platform managed the tour inventory and payments, providing real-time inventory management.

Since its inception in 2011, Xola has emerged as a leading B2B solution for travel industry operators. The company started in San Francisco, but opened an office in Houston in 2016 in the Heights Clock Tower. Xola's Houston operation began with six people; today, it employs 17. Zimmerman says he sees potential to grow the team with additional marketing, sales, and support staff.

"We serve customers around the world, and Houston has everything we need to continue our growth."

Zimmerman acknowledged the cost of doing business in the Bay Area is expensive, but when he went looking for cities in which to expand, price wasn't his only concern.

"We wanted a large metropolitan area, with a diverse ecosystem, good universities, a great talent pool, a high quality of life and an affordable cost of living. Houston has all these things. And the more I get to know the city, I realize just how much it has going on."

Zimmerman said that the city has "totally exceeded" his expectations in terms of Xola's growth. He said every one of the Houston employees is wonderful to work with, and loves that they come from diverse cultural and educational backgrounds.

"I can't quite describe what the office is like, but there's a great energy and enthusiasm. [The team] easy to work with. It's been fun in that regard."

Zimmerman said that Houston's talent pool is so extensive, he can't imagine "ever exhausting" the city's resources. He also sees Houston as an asset for Xola's continued growth. The company currently has offices in San Francisco, Houston, Bangalore, and Belgrade and anticipates more expansion in the coming years. Xola's ticketing and software system has received multiple five-star reviews from its customers, who praise not only its ease of operation, but also the company's stellar customer service. In fact, Xola just won a 2018 Ease of Use Award from Capterra.

"In addition to Xola's core booking system, we're building next-generation automated marketing features that help our customers maintain a competitive edge. And our Houston team will continue to grow as we do, so we can continue to serve markets around the world."

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Houston university teams up with angel group to reach, upskill future investors

Through a new partnership with the Houston Angel Network and Houston Exponential, the University of Houston will help cultivate startup investors among UH alumni.

The partnership will bolster accredited early-stage investors and accelerate opportunities for aspiring startup investors, the university says in a news release.

“Investors play a vital role in the startup ecosystem and this initiative gives our alumni a rapid path to becoming angels. Our vision is to activate more investors with deep connections to UH who support world-class innovation in our community and beyond,” says Ramanan Krishnamoorti, the university’s vice president for energy and innovation.

The partnership is based at UH’s Technology Bridge. Tech Bridge promotes tech commercialization, industrial partnerships, and startup development.

“Our founders are launching many exciting new companies, but they need better access to capital,” says Tanu Chatterji, associate director of startup development at UH. “This partnership will help us mobilize angel investors who want to support these innovators with knowledge and financial resources.”

UH alumni interested in participating in the new partnership should contact Chatterji at tchatte@uh.edu.

The angel network will lend its investing expertise to early-stage businesses in tech, energy, life sciences, consumer, and aerospace sectors. Meanwhile, tech startup incubator Houston Exponential will provide support for entrepreneurs and the startup ecosystem.

“This relationship is a testament to the collaborative spirit of Greater Houston’s business and academic communities,” says Mitra Miller, vice president of the Houston Angel Network, an organization for early-stage investors. “By leveraging the combined expertise and resources of our three organizations, we can increase the flow of early-stage capital in our region in support of great innovators and high-growth enterprises.”

Natara Branch, CEO of Houston Exponential, says the new initiative “promises to be a roadmap for investment education, and support for aspiring investors and entrepreneurs alike.”

“An active and educated investor base is an essential component of a thriving startup ecosystem,” says Branch.

Houston lab sees progress with breakthrough light-harvesting processes

Hi, tech

A groundbreaking Rice University lab has made further strides in its work to make harvesting light energy more efficient and stable.

Presented on the cover of a June issue of Science, a study from Rice engineer Aditya Mohite's lab uncovered a method to synthesize a high-efficiency perovskite solar cell, known as formamidinium lead iodide (FAPbI3), converting them into ultrastable high-quality photovoltaic films, according to a statement from Rice. Photovoltaic films convert sunlight into electricity.

The new process makes solar cells that are about 10 times more durable than traditional methods.

“Right now, we think that this is state of the art in terms of stability,” Mohite said in a statement. “Perovskite solar cells have the potential to revolutionize energy production, but achieving long-duration stability has been a significant challenge.”

The change come from "seasoning" the FAPbI3 with 2D halide perovskites crystals, which the Mohite lab also developed a breakthrough synthesis process for last year

The 2D perovskites helped make the FAPbI3 films more stable. The study showed that films with 2D perovskites deteriorated after two days of generating electricity, while those with 2D perovskites had not started to degrade after 20 days.

“FAPbI3 films templated with 2D crystals were higher quality, showing less internal disorder and exhibiting a stronger response to illumination, which translated as higher efficiency," Isaac Metcalf, a Rice materials science and nanoengineering graduate student and a lead author on the study, said in the statement.

Additionally, researchers say their findings could make developing light-harvesting technologies cheaper, and can also allow light-harvesting panels to be lighter weight and more flexible.

"Perovskites are soluble in solution, so you can take an ink of a perovskite precursor and spread it across a piece of glass, then heat it up and you have the absorber layer for a solar cell,” Metcalf said. “Since you don’t need very high temperatures ⎯ perovskite films can be processed at temperatures below 150 Celsius (302 Fahrenheit) ⎯ in theory that also means perovskite solar panels can be made on plastic or even flexible substrates, which could further reduce costs.”

Mohite adds this has major implications for the energy transition at large.

“If solar electricity doesn’t happen, none of the other processes that rely on green electrons from the grid, such as thermochemical or electrochemical processes for chemical manufacturing, will happen,” Mohite said. “Photovoltaics are absolutely critical.”

The Mohite lab's process for creating 2D perovskites of the ideal thickness and purity was published in Nature Synthesis last fall. At the time, Mohite said the crystals "hold the key to achieving commercially relevant stability for solar cells."

About a year ago, the lab also published its work on developing a scalable photoelectrochemical cell. The research broke records for its solar-to-hydrogen conversion efficiency rate.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

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 a health tech data scientist, a CEO celebrating an international expansion, and a founder who won a big DOE prize.

Angela Wilkins, chief data scientist at Starling Medical

Angela Wilkins joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the intersection of data and health care. Photo courtesy

When most people hear about Houston startup Starling Medical, they might think about how much potential the medical device company has in the field of urinalysis diagnostics. But that's not quite where Angela Wilkins's head went.

Wilkins explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that when she met the company's co-founders, Hannah McKenney and Drew Hendricks, she recognized them as very promising startup leaders taking action on a real health care problem. Starling's device can collect urine and run diagnostics right from a patient's toilet.

"It was one of those things where I just thought, 'They're going to get a bunch of data soon,'" Wilkins says. "The opportunity is just there, and I was really excited to come on and build their AI platform and the way they are going to look at data."

For about a year, Wilkins supported the startup as an adviser. Now, she's working more hands on as chief data officer as the company grows. Read more.

Sean Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Amperon

Amperon officially expanded in Europe. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston-based, AI-powered electricity forecasting and analytics services company Amperon Holdings is live in Europe. The expansion, which Co-Founder and CEO Sean Kelly previously told InnovationMap about, is official, the company announced this month. In addition to the expansion, Amperon announced Jon Ecker as general manager, Europe, and Kelsey Hultberg as executive vice president, communications, and chief of staff.

Now, European companies that buy and sell energy in the renewable energy producers, financial institutions, and utilities markets can leverage Amperon's platform of AI and machine learning technologies to access short- and long-term forecasts for their individual meters and generation assets.

“As a warmer-than-expected June ushers in a hot summer, and increasing uncertainty looms for the calmer fall months due to the influx of wind and solar generation, we are eager to assist our European customers in navigating the power market volatility caused by heat waves, extreme weather events, and shifts in power usage across the region,” Kelly says in a news release. Read more.

Laureen Meroueh, founder of Hertha Metals

Hertha Metals, based in Conroe, won first place at the 2024 Summer Energy Program for Innovation Clusters (EPIC) Startup Pitch Competition. Photo via LinkedIn

Four startups from across the country won over $160,000 in cash prizes from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Technology Transitions earlier this month, and a Houston-area company claimed the top prize.

Hertha Metals, based in Conroe, won first place at the 2024 Summer Energy Program for Innovation Clusters (EPIC) Startup Pitch Competition. The program honors and supports clean energy innovators nominated by clean technology business incubators.

Hertha Metals was founded by Laureen Meroueh, a mechanical engineer and materials scientist, in 2022. Read more.