Only time will tell how Houston did for startup fundraising in 2019, but in the meantime, here's what stories of venture capital tended on InnovationMap. Getty Images

Editor's note: As 2019 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. When it came to the money raised in Houston, five stories of new funds and closed rounds trended among readers.

These 7 Houston startups closed millions in funding in September

Seven Houston startups are beginning October with fresh funding. Photo by Tim Leviston/Getty Images

September was a busy month for several Houston startups. Seven companies closed rounds throughout the month and are now beginning the fourth quarter of 2019 with fresh funds.

InnovationMap has rounded up these seven deals based on previous stories as well as new information. Scroll through to see which Houston startups are catching the eyes — and cashing the checks — of investors. To continue reading this top story, click here.

3 TMCx companies have raised funds while completing the Houston accelerator

Three companies in TMCx's current cohort are leaving the program with new funds. Courtesy of TMCx

The Texas Medical Center's accelerator program is wrapping up its Digital Health cohort this week with the culmination of its TMCx Demo Day, and, while all of the companies have something to celebrate, three have announced that they are leaving the program with fresh funds.

Meru, Roundtrip, and Sani Nudge have raised over $10 million between the three companies. All three will be presenting at the TMCx Digital Health Demo Day on June 6 with the 16 other companies in the cohort. To continue reading this top story, click here.

5 Houston startups beginning 2019 with new capital

These five companies are starting 2019 out with some cash, and here's what they plan on doing with it. Getty Images

Finding growing Houston startups is as easy as following the money, and a few local companies are starting 2019 strong with a recent round of funding closed. InnovationMap has rounded up a few recent raises to highlight heading into the new year. To continue reading this top story, click here.

Exclusive: Houston-based stadium ordering app closes near $1.3 million Seed round with plans to scale

Houston-based sEATz has closed a funding round and plans to reach more fans than ever this football season. Courtesy of sEATz

Fans across the country are headed to football stadiums this weekend to cheer on their teams, but only a few will have the luxury of ordering food, beer, and even merchandise from the comfort of their seats.

Houston-based sEATz has created a platform where fans can order just about anything their stadium has from an app. Much like any other ordering app, once the order is placed, a runner will pick up the food and deliver it to the customer for a small fee and a tip.

The startup is now preparing to scale up from seven venues to 10 before the year is over as well as launching a new version of the app thanks to an oversubscribed near $1.3 million Seed round led by Houston-based Valedor Partners. Houston-based Starboard Star Venture Capital also contributed to the round. SEATz has plans to launch its Series A round before the new year. To continue reading this top story, click here.

Female-led venture capital firm launches in Houston to move the needle on investment in women-owned companies

A new venture capital firm launched in Houston to focus on female-led startups. Courtesy of The Artemis Fund

Three powerhouse investment minds have teamed up to launch a female-focused seed and series A venture capital firm in Houston.

In its first $20 million fund, The Artemis Fund will invest in around 30 women-led companies, and will award a $100,000 investment prize at the Rice Business Plan Competition, which takes place April 4 through 6. According to the company's press release, The Artemis Fund is the first of its kind — being female-led and female-focused — in Houston.

"There is a wealth of female leadership in the Houston innovation ecosystem, and we would like to see the same representation in the investor the investor community to help female founders thrive," says Stephanie Campbell, co-founder and principal of The Artemis Fund. To continue reading this top story, click here.


Most venture capital rejection is because of one or more of these three reasons. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

3 reasons venture capitalists say no, according to University of Houston research

Houston Voices

One of the most common questions that pops up in startup circles is, "Why did they turn me down?" There are myriad reasons why a venture capitalist might turn down pitches and decline funding. Here, I'll present the three most common.

They don't understand your business

Einstein once said, "If you cannot explain it to a six-year old, you don't understand it yourself."

If you spend an entire presentation showing well-researched facts and figures, talking about how groundbreaking your idea is, and presenting detailed charts and graphs, but your audience still has no idea what you do, you're in trouble.

Moreover, avoid overusing jargon and esoteric terms in your pitch. Speak simply.

If you cannot explain in simple terms what your startup does and why it's marketable, potential investors have no reason to believe you will know what you're doing with their money. To sum up, they'll think you don't understand your own business.

They don't think you've done the legwork

Some venture capitalists invest in early stage startups, so it's totally normal for them to sit through pitches where a product has not even been built yet. Consequently, the problem comes when it becomes evident the startup founder has failed to do any legwork. As a result, investors are likely to feel insecure about giving their money to someone who couldn't even do simple research.

Sure, the product hasn't been built, but that is not an excuse to sit back on cruise control. In other words, don't take your foot off the gas. Move forward constantly and don't stop learning more about your industry.

What have you done for customer development? Customer discovery? How many potential customers have you talked to? How much would they pay for your product or service? Have you studied the competitive dynamics of the market for which you will enter? Who is your competition and what are their strengths and weaknesses? You get the picture.

Certainly, one big misstep among startup founders is that they tend to believe work should not be done until they attain funding. Wrong. During your struggle to attain money, you should be busy learning everything about your industry, market, and customers. That way, once you finally get that meeting with an investor, they will feel much more confident that you will use their money intelligently.

They don't see that you have a strategy

It's an unfortunate commonality that a startup founder will put together a great pitch, get deep into it in front of a venture capitalist, and then unravel the entire presentation by exposing themselves as not having a plan of attack for the market. To clarify, it is a huge waste of your time to undo all your hard work by showing you don't have a strategy. Remember, investors are looking for reasons to pass on you.

When asked about their strategy for reaching the market, a common refrain is, "we will provide this awesome service (or make this awesome product) and the customers will roll right in." Or even "we will partner with this corporate giant who will sell our product because it's that amazing."

Above all, you must show your potential investor that you have the wherewithal to create, polish, and scale a reliable process that reaches your customer base.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Texas venture capital deals had a slow quarter, according to Crunchbase data. Getty Images

Houston sees underwhelming venture capital funds in Q3 2019, following larger Texas trend

funding fumble

The entire state of Texas saw an unimpressive third quarter of venture deals — especially compared to the second quarter's reports — and Houston was not immune.

The state reported $372.4 million fundraised by tech startups in Q3 of 2019, according to Crunchbase data, which is less than half of what was reported in Q3 of 2018 ($776.8 million) and what the state raked in the second quarter of this year ($830.6 million).

Houston brought in a measly $38.4 million last quarter, per Crunchbase, and compared to the $251 million raised by Houston companies in Q2, that drop stings. It's the lowest quarterly venture amount Houston's seen in over a year, and lower than Houston's $44.7 million reported for Q1. Zooming out a little, the city's venture reports remain a rollercoaster of sorts with strong quarters bookended by lousy ones.

Chart via InnovationMap using Crunchbase data.

Austin maintained its top spot on the Texas venture leader board with $236.4 million of Texas' total $372.4 million raised in Q3 2019, according to Crunchbase, but that's about $200 million less than the city raised in Q2. Meanwhile, Dallas — a city Houston usually competes with for the No. 2 spot — raised $70.3 million compared to its $126.7 million raised in Q2. The only region up in raises is categorized as "other Texas metros," which went from $7.3 million to $27.4 million between Q2 and Q3.

According to Crunchbase, the city's $38.4 million was raised in six deals between June and September 2019. The top deal of those six companies was raised by Axiom Space, which closed a $16 million in a seed round.

Crunchbase's Texas reporter, Mary Ann Azevedo, reminds readers that their proprietary data is subject to reporting delays.

"Actual deal counts and dollar volume totals are higher than what Crunchbase currently has on record, and the numbers we're reporting today are likely to change as more data gets added to Crunchbase over time," she writes.

Just like Crunchbase, InnovationMap doesn't get to report on every single venture deal. However, here are some of the raises we covered in the third quarter of this year.

  • Spruce, a service provider for apartment residents, raised a $3 million round in July. The company moved its headquarters to Austin around the same time. Read more.
  • Grab, a mobile software company that's designed an airport mobile ordering app, closed a multimillion-dollar series A this summer. Read more.
  • Fannin Partners LLC, an early-stage life science commercialization company, closed a $5.25 million round this summer. Read more.
  • Voyager, a bulk shipping software company, raised $1.5 million in seed funding in August. Read more.
  • Cemvita Factory, which created a way to mimic photosynthesis, raised an undisclosed amount from corporate partners in August and September. Read more.
  • Galen Data, which uses its cloud-based software to connect medical devices, closed a $1 million seed round in September. Read more.
  • Syzygy Plasmonics, a hydrogen fuel cell creator, closed a $5.8 million Series A round in September. Read more.
  • sEATz, an app that allows in-seat ordering, closed a $1.3 million seed round in September. Read more.
  • Sourcewater Inc., which specializes in oilfield water intelligence, closed its series A round at $7.2 million in September. Read more.
  • Topl, a blockchain developer, raised over $700,000 in its seed round in September. Read more.
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

From credit to crowdfunding, startups have more cash flow options now than ever before. Getty Images

Houston small business finance panel lays out funding options for startups

Follow the money

When it comes to raising money for your startup, there's plenty of fish in the sea, however, navigating the rough waters can be difficult.

Houston Community College put on a Small Business Summit on June 13 and gathered a group of financial professionals to represent several types of funding options, from venture capital to microlending.

Crowdfunding

The crowdfunding game has changed, says Rhian Davies, business development manager for LetsLaunch, an equity-based crowdfunding tool.

While most people think that donation-based crowdfunding — like GoFundMe or Kickstarter that give you the product or thank-you gift when you give — are the only options, that's not the case. And, investing using these platforms doesn't mean anything to you if the company sees success.

"If it makes it big, you're not going to get anything back," says Davies of these types of platforms.

But the JOBS Act in 2012 changed everything. Now, companies fundraising on crowdfunding sites can trade in equity for funds.

"Previously, investments were reserved for wealthy individuals — accredited individuals — who had a certain amount of money could invest in businesses," says Davies. "Equity crowdfunding opened that up."

With crowdfunding, you can also run other types of fundraising efforts at the same time, spreading out your options.

"It allows (the community) to invest in your business and it allows you to pass the hat and have people come on board," Davies says.

The other benefit to using the LetsLaunch platform is the team assists the startups every step of the way, from uploading a digital pitch deck onto the LetsLaunch platform and preparing paperwork to filing with the SEC.

However, one of the major challenges for startups is deciding what their funding goal is. Davies says you do have to hit a certain funding goal to be able to take that cash home, and for LetsLaunch, they look for that figure to be $10,000 minimum. Anything less than that isn't worth it — from both the LetsLaunch and the startup's perspective. The maximum value for equity crowdfunding is capped at just over $1 million — per the SEC.

Venture capital

VC funding is where most people's minds go when it comes to startup funding. And this type of funding is in an evolution phase too, says Remington Tonar, managing director at The Cannon Houston. While traditional VCs want a three-times return in five to seven years, some firms have more on their minds then just the money.

"There's a new phenomenon in venture where a lot of early stage investors and angel investors are looking at social impact investing," Tonar says. "They want to invest in women- or minority-owned businesses or companies that have a sustainability or social impact component to them. For those investors, the return demands are much more flexible."

Not only are they more flexible on returns, but VCs want more hands-on roles at the companies they invest in. Tonar says venture capitalists don't want to give passive capital.

Another way VCs differ from other types of funding is they are looking for something different in the companies they invest in — they want the next big thing.

"What venture capitalists really look for is disruptive business that are creating value in news ways," Tonar says.

And investments can be industry agnostic — VCs aren't reserved to just tech and computing industries.

"Most people would not have thought the hotel industry was a great industry for venture capital until Airbnb came along," says Tonar. "Most people would not have thought that taxis were a great industry for venture capital until Uber came along."

Fundraising through VC firms is a very personal process — they are investing in you, the founder, just as much as they are investing in the company or idea, Tonar says. You can have a horrible credit history or have declared bankrupt in the past, and while they will find that out, it's not a dealbreaker like it would be for a bank or traditional loan process.

"But if the investor feels that the idea has value and can create value and meets their risk profile, they will look at your startup and go through their due diligence process."

Microlending

A new trend in funding options is microlending — a type of loan process that caps out at $50,000. Lisa Riley is Houston market president for LiftFund, one of the largest microlenders in the United States.

Since the amount is smaller, the risk is smaller too. The type of customer LiftFund looks for is the person or company that's been denied by other banks.

"It's not always because of something negative with the customer," Riley says. "There are certain industries where it's very difficult to get finance right now."

Just like the trend in VCs, these types of lenders want to be hands on too to help secure success and a return.

"The last thing we want to be is another monthly obligation or a debt — the noose around someone's neck suffocating their small business," Riley says. "We want to make sure and walk with you and hold your hand as long as you'll hold mine so that when we give you your loan it's the right amount for your business and the right time."

Traditional loans and factoring

Of course, conventional loans is still an option, as is factoring — the process in which a business sells its accounts receivables to a third-party entity, called a factor.

Peter Ellen, senior vice president at Amegy Bank, explains the process as being pretty traditional. His bank wants to see a secure and profitable business on trach for growth.

"Typically, we look for a business that's been established for two years, that has generated a profit, and can show a clear path of repayment," Ellen says.

Again, like other funding options, Ellen says a relationship with the company is important.

"That's really what we look to do, is to form a relationship at an early stage with a company, really understand what they do, and help assist in the growth and success of their company," he says.

SBA loans

SBA loans are another lending option for startups to consider, Aziz Rahim, senior vice president at Wallis Bank, explains.

Different from a traditional loan process, SBA loans are guaranteed by the Small Business Association up to 85 percent, which lowers the risk for then lending partner.

Other benefits to SBA loans are lower down payments, generous term lengths, and caps on interest rates.

"The good thing about SBA loans compared to conventional loans is SBA loans do not balloon," Rahim says.

The new, Houston-based GSTVC fund will dole out $20 million to scalable SaaS companies. Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Houston startup consulting firm launches $20 million venture capital fund for early stage software companies

Follow the money

A new venture capital fund has launched in Houston to serve seed-stage, software-as-a-service companies. The $20 million fund plans to make its first investment by the end of the third quarter of this year.

The fund is launching under Golden Section Technology, a Houston-based software consulting firm focused on demystifying technology and providing training and counseling for entrepreneurs. Managing director, Dougal Cameron, says he and a small group of investors made investments in some of the companies that GST has worked with over the years.

"Along the way, we've had the opportunity to invest in some businesses that were our clients," Cameron tells InnovationMap. "A couple years later, we realized that we've invested $8 million — the majority being in Houston-based startups."

Most of these investments saw successful exits, Cameron says, and now, with interest from other investors, Cameron wants to expand the company's reach and contribution with the GSTVC fund.

The GSTVC fund will invest in $500,000 to $750,000 increments and will have a strong presence in each of the portfolio companies.

"Where most capital wants to be hands off, we are going to be incredibly hands on and view that as an augmentation to the management team," Cameron says.

The hands-on approach isn't surprising, considering GST's specialty since its founding in 2011 has been helping scale its client companies. During the early stages of company growth, GST helps its clients make the right growth-centered decisions, and as the company scales up, the firm continues to provide C-level support and trained development teams.

Combining the $20 million of capital with GST's years of entrepreneurial and upscale expertise makes for a fund unlike anything else available in Houston.

"We have done things a bit differently than the traditional investment fund as we supply far more than just working capital," says Isaac Shi, managing partner at GSTVC, in a release. "We have the full strength of our software development company, Golden Section Technology, as well as deep experience in early stage B2B Sales and Marketing. The combination of our experience, capital and hands on approach has the potential to substantially decrease the risk for our investment companies and increase the return for our investors."

One of the GST clients that has already received an investment is QMSC LLC, a Houston-based, B2B SaaS company that enables cloud technology and analytics to help businesses lower operating costs. QMSC has already seen the benefit of GST's funding and consulting working together.

"The world doesn't need one more B2B investment fund like all the others, but there is surely room for one which reduces the risk of execution and accelerates product development in the manner that GSTVC can," says Marshall Williams, founder of QMSC, LLC, in a news release. "They are doing something very different."

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Overheard: Houston execs weigh in on the innovation ecosystem and local startups

Eavesdropping in Houston

Something has shifted in Houston, and businesses across industries — whether it be real estate, health care, or energy — are focused on innovation, emerging technologies, and the role of startups within the business community.

At the Greater Houston Partnership's annual Economic Outlook on December 5, three panelists from various industries gathered to discuss some of the biggest issues in Houston — from the multifamily real estate market to what the local workforce needs. The panel was moderated by Eddie Robinson, the morning news anchor for Houston Public Radio, and the panelists did weigh in a few issues affecting innovation.

Missed the talk? Here are a few overheard moments from the discussion.

"Houston allows you to do what you do. And you don't get that in other places."

Photo via Greater Houston Partnership/Facebook

Bradley R. Freels, chairman of Midway Cos. Freels says, while the city's been overshadowed by other Texas cities for innovation and tech — and even by its large oil and gas industry presence, the city is becoming a great place for startups. "This is a great place to do business because it's easy to get started in business here. I think it's just over shadowed to some degree," he says, adding later that, "the initiative around the innovation corridor is real."

"Houston is unique, in my opinion, in how open and welcoming it is."

Photo via Greater Houston Partnership/Facebook

— David Milich, CEO of UnitedHealthcare - Texas & Oklahoma. Building off the panelists point that Houston is a spirited, can-do city, Milich specifies that it's the collaboration between people in Houston that sets the city apart. "When we present ourselves with something to get done, we generally get it down."

"We're realizing that the economy is shifting. As we move forward in the 21st century, our entire workforce needs to be tech fluent."

Photo via Greater Houston Partnership/Facebook

Nataly Marks, managing director and region manager at JPMorgan Chase. When asked about jobs needed in Houston, Marks specified technology positions. Moreover, JPMorgan Chase is emphasizing getting the entire staff proficient in the latest tech resources.

New travel startup plans the perfect vacations for Houston's busy young professionals

GET THERE NOW

Work-life balance for a young professional is hard. There's the dream of travel but the nightmare of planning. Then there's the challenge of working with limited vacation days and finding a friend whose schedule lines up.

To the rescue comes Houston-based Here & Now Travel, which aims to create a vacation free of stress and full of memorable experiences and offers adventurous group travel specifically for young professionals.

When discussing the inspiration for starting their company, cofounder Alex Coleman tells CultureMap that he and his wife and fellow cofounder, Elise, were caught between the benefits and drawbacks of individual versus group travel.

They loved the freedom of solo traveling but not the potential feelings of isolation and vulnerability. When it came to traveling with friends, they enjoyed the bonding and security in a group but not all the work involved with navigating everyone's schedules and preferences during planning.

"We decided to create a travel company that combined the best of both worlds," Coleman says. "A company that gave people the flexibility of going to their desired destinations at their desired time, without losing the experience of traveling with a group of awesome people."

As young professionals themselves, the Colemans also wanted their company to consider the typically low number of vacation days their target clients have. That's why Here & Now trips take advantage of weekends and holidays so participants only have to take a maximum of three days off from work.

Here & Now Travel currently has six trips planned for 2020: two to Costa Rica, two to Colombia, and two to Mexico. On these trips, the itineraries lean towards adventure activities and cultural experiences.

For example, their next trip scheduled for January 9 to January 13 to Costa Rica includes exploring Juan Castro Blanco National Park, zip lining through the rainforest, learning how to make tortillas with a local family, and more.

"We shy away from crowded tourist attractions. We pride ourselves on showing travelers hidden gems of our destinations, be it the hidden Mayan cenote in Tulum where we have to be blessed by the community's Mayan Shaman before entering, or one of the region's largest waterfall in Costa Rica which sits on the land of a small farming family," says Coleman. "Through these tucked away, amazing places, we get to see things others typically don't, and have true interaction with the communities we are visiting.

Each Here & Now package includes private transportation to and from the airport and for the duration of the trip, shared three or four-star accommodation, all breakfasts and lunches, and all entrance fees and itinerary activity costs. Flights, dinners, and the required travel insurance are not included.

If you decide to join one of their trips, you can expect to be in a group of between six and 14 young professionals — with 14 being the absolute max as Here & Now Travel doesn't want to overrun the visited communities or contribute to the overuse of their resources.

"Large groups in charter buses feel clunky and seem like you are trampling or disrupting the destinations you are visiting," says Coleman. "We cap our trips at 14 people, allowing us to be good stewards of the communities we visit, and maintain our feel as a small group of travelers...and not tourists."

Each travel group is also accompanied by a Here & Now host who handles all the logistics as well as a local guide, which is a feature that Coleman believes sets their company apart from others.

"Travelers on Here & Now trips are always led by someone who calls that destination home," he explains. "Our guides have an emotional bond to the places we explore. Their passion and connection to their homes is something that can't be replicated."

Along with employing these local guides, Here & Now Travel works with local drivers, restaurants, and lodging as a way to ensure the money they spend in each community stays in that community.

As a further testament to their commitment to sustainable tourism, Here & Now Travel plans to offset their carbon footprint, which is mainly caused by airline travel, by donating to the nonprofit Trees for Houston in 2020.

The company also has plans to increase their number of trips to once per month and to eventually include European destinations.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.