Featured innovator

Tenavox leader on expanding in Texas and LGBTQ representation within innovation

This month, InnovationMap is profiling the faces of Pride within innovation. Marissa Limsiaco, CEO of Tenavox, discusses her career and the company's expansion plans. Courtesy of Tenavox

After founding her second startup, Marissa Limsiaco thought that would be her last.

But years later, Limsiaco, a U.S. Army veteran with three degrees under her belt, was pulled back into the entrepreneurship world by Tenavox, a commercial real estate leasing company that gives tenants negotiating power through an online platform that shares space requirements, location and an expected price for the unit.

This month, InnovationMap is profiling the faces of Pride within Houston innovation. Limsiaco spoke with InnovationMap about her career, Tenavox, and the importance of the LGBTQ community in entrepreneurship.

InnovationMap: What has happened with Tenavox in the last eight months since InnovationMap has spoken with you?

Marissa Limsiaco: Oh gosh, it has felt like years. In the startup world, eight months is like two years and three months is like a year it feels. (Back in November), we were just launching our sales efforts.

Since last year going into this year, our (monthly recurring revenue) has grown over 100 percent. We've now connected tenants to agents and generated over $3.5 million in deals. So that's been really exciting that we're making those connections. And now most recently, we've closed a round this month. We are kind of focusing on a new offering called Tour Ready that we're selling to customers are on the project leasing side. Ultimately, it allows people who are looking for space to see and book a tour in a matter of minutes if it feeds their needs.

IM: I know that you took your service in the military and used that experience with leadership and management to become a successful entrepreneur. You have been a part of different startups in addition to Tenavox. Could you have imagined yourself at this point in your career 5 to 10 years ago?

ML: Absolutely not. I would not have even thought this was an option 5 or 6 years ago. Even though I was out of the Army, I was still learning business and going through that transition. After that second business that I started I told myself "I'm never going to do this again," and now I'm on my fourth.

IM: What compelled you to keep going in the startup world?

ML: It was this opportunity and the impact that we can have on everybody that we're helping on this platform, from business owners all the way to commercial agents and ownership groups. As a business owner myself, I experience the struggle firsthand of finding space and how frustrating that was. And it's sad that in 2019, one of the most effective ways to find spaces is driving around, calling signs with little to no information. When I saw how big the problem was and how antiquated the industry is where nothing has changed as far as making it any better for people to search for space to lease, I was just super determined to solve this problem.

IM: The last time InnovationMap spoke to you, Tenavox had just received funding from RealCo, an accelerator program funded by Geekdom fund. What has that funding been used for?

ML: Oh, yeah, we've raised more funding since then. And we have enough money now to go to the rest of Texas, which is exciting.

IM: When are the expansions?

ML: Well right now, we're in Houston and Austin and then we're going to go to Dallas towards the end of this year. We are also going to raise a round to go out of Texas. Josh [Feinberg, my co-founder,] and I have a larger vision vision for Tenavox and we really want to take it national. So we're going to prepare toward the end of this year, and next year we're going to open up on a bigger round of fundraising to be able to go to other states.

IM: What are some of the ways the tech and innovation community support their LGBTQ colleagues throughout the month of June?

ML: Expanding to other industries and awareness of minorities in other industries, whether it be LGBTQ or women, I think highlighting folks that are in those groups that are in the industry helps a lot. Two years ago when I became CEO and we started this company, it was daunting and scary. There's not a lot of women doing what I do, right? Something that keeps me going is that I have to show another girl or whoever that it's possible to be in my position.

IM: What advice would you have for a young gay or lesbian entrepreneur heading into the military or tech and real estate industries?

ML: Don't be scared to do things that you're scared of. I know everybody's different but the times I found myself in positions like I am today was because I was scared of it. I was scared of what happened, but I knew that I had to do it to overcome it or to see what would happen. The last industry in this whole entire world ever that I would have thought about five years ago would be commercial real estate. And yet when the opportunity presented itself, I just went for it. I just knew that I was going to grow and because I challenged myself and whenever I've faced that, I've come out totally another person, especially just me personally in this role. I tell a lot of the young people that I mentor that if an opportunity presents itself and it may not interest you, you should still look into because you just never know.

IM: What does Pride Month mean to you?

ML: It means empowering the LGBTQ community. The importance of having a whole month in this year that is dedicated to reminding everybody — and it even extends beyond LGBTQ — that you should just be who you are. Be proud of who you are. And I think that means a lot.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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Building Houston

 
 

Here are the Houston startups that together raised over $222 million in venture capital investment last quarter. Photo via Getty Images

Houston startups are keeping pace when it comes to venture capital raised this year. In this roundup of funding closed in the second quarter, Houston businesses across sectors and industries close significant rounds from seed to series C.

Eleven startups raised over $222 million last quarter, according to InnovationMap reporting, which is more than in the first and second quarters. In chronological order, here's what companies snagged fresh funding recently.


Houston EV charging tech company raises $6M series A

Revterra Corp. closed a $6 million series A round led by Equinor Ventures. Photo courtesy of Revterra

Houston-based tech company Revterra Corp. has picked up $6 million in a series A funding round to propel development of its battery for electric vehicle charging stations.

Norway’s Equinor Ventures led the round, with participation from Houston-based SCF Ventures. Previously, Revterra raised nearly $500,000 through a combination of angel investments and a National Science Foundation grant.

Revterra says its kinetic flywheel battery enables quick, simple, cost-effective installation of high-powered DC chargers for electric vehicles. The technology eases the burden placed on electrical grids, the company says. Continue reading.

Houston-founded blockchain startup raises $15M series A to increase international impact

Topl's latest fundraising round includes participation from a Houston investor as well as international partners. Image via Getty Images

A blockchain technology company that was founded out of Rice University has closed its latest round of funding.

Founded in 2017, Topl is a blockchain-as-a-service company that's developing a purpose-built blockchain ecosystem to empower impact and sustainability within its userbase of businesses. The company's $15 million series A round was co-led by Houston-based Mercury, Republic Asia, and Malta-based Cryptology Asset Group.

“Topl’s blockchain was purpose built to power the next wave of supply chains and markets, that are more sustainable and inclusive,” says Chris Georgen, founder and managing director of Topl, in a news release. “Every decision we’ve made has been relentlessly focused on this problem and it’s exciting to see this approach yielding results with more than 30 different impact-forward use cases already live or approaching launch." Continue reading.

Houston-based gig economy startup raises $1.2M, launches beta platform

Madison Long, left, and Simone May co-founded Clutch to democratize side gig success on college campuses. Photo courtesy of Clutch

Two Houstonians on a mission to enable safe and equitable entrepreneurship on college campuses have launched a new beta platform and closed pre-seed funding.

Clutch, a digital marketplace startup founded by Simone May and Madison Long, closed its pre-seed round of funding at $1.2 million – led by Precursor Ventures and other partners such as Capital Factory and HearstLab. The investment from this round will support Clutch’s national open beta launch of its platform for brands and student creators nationwide and its continued investment in customer and product strategy.

“We are at this inflection point where marketing is changing,” May says in a press release. “We know that the next generation can clearly see that and I think a lot of marketing agencies are starting to catch on. We need to be prioritizing the next generation’s opinion because they are driving who is interested in what they buy. This upcoming generation does not want to be sold to and they don’t like inorganic, inauthentic advertisements. That’s why user generated content is so big, it feels authentic.” Continue reading.

Houston hydrogen startup closes $25M series B

This hydrogen company has fresh funding. Photo via utility.global

Utility Global, a Houston-based sustainable hydrogen company, has closed its series B round of funding to the tune of $25 million, Axios reports.

Houston-based private equity firm Ara Partners led the round. Other participating investors included: Samsung Ventures, NOVA, and Aramco.

Utility Global, founded in 2018, has developed a clean hydrogen solution. The proprietary tech — called the eXERO Technology Platform — includes a zero electricity process that converts sustainable waste streams into high-purity hydrogen. Additionally, the company developed its H2Gen Product Line that delivers customers reliable, low carbon, and high purity hydrogen, which offers unparalleled feedstock flexibility and highly competitive economics. Continue reading.

Industrial blockchain tech company headquartered in Houston closes $4M series C round

Houston-based Data Gumbo, an industrial blockchain-software-as-a-service company, announced that its latest round or funding. Photo courtesy of Data Gumbo

Data Gumbo, a Houston-based tech startup, has picked up $4 million in a series C round from the venture capital arms of foreign energy companies Saudi Aramco and Equinor.

The funding for Data Gumbo came from Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, the VC subsidiary of government-owned oil and natural gas giant Saudi Aramco, and Equinor Technology Ventures, the VC subsidiary of Norwegian energy operator Equinor. The U.S. headquarters for both Saudi Aramco and Equinor are in Houston. Continue reading.

Houston company raises $138M for next-generation geothermal energy

The future of geothermal energy is here — and just got a big payday. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based startup Fervo Energy has picked up $138 million in funding to propel its creation and operation of carbon-free power plants fueled by geothermal energy.

Fervos says the series C round will help it complete power plants in Nevada and Utah and evaluate new projects in California, Idaho, Oregon, Colorado, and New Mexico, as well as in other countries.

California-based investment firm DCVC led the round, with participation from six new investors. Continue reading.

Houston 'sneakerheads' raise $8.9M to further develop digital marketplace

Tradeblock's three co-founders have known each other since childhood. Photo via tradeblock.us

A Houston-based company is kicking it with some fresh funding with plans to expand development of its marketplace platform.

Unique sneaker trading platform, Tradeblock, has raised $8.9 million in funding from investment partners Courtside VC, Trinity Ventures, and Concrete Rose Capital. Per the news release, the company expects additional funding of around $4.5 million to its seed round.

Tradeblock — founded in 2020 by self-proclaimed "sneakerheads" and childhood friends Mbiyimoh Ghogomu, Tony Malveaux, and Darren Smith — will use the fresh funding to expand and improve its digital marketplace for shoes. Continue reading.

Health tech startup with Houston HQ raises $14M series A

Optellum, which has its United States operations based in the TMC Innovation Institute, has raised fresh funding. Photo via Getty Images

A Oxford-based health tech startup that has its United States headquarters in Houston has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Optellum, which has created a breakthrough AI platform to diagnose and treat early-stage lung cancer, has raised $14 million in a series A funding round. The round was led by United Kingdom-based Mercia, with additional investors California-based Intuitive Ventures and New York-based Black Opal Ventures. Existing investors, including St John's College in the University of Oxford, IQ Capital, and the family office of Sir Martin & Lady Audrey Wood, also participated in the round, per a news release.

"Lung cancer is an urgent public health crisis and Optellum's groundbreaking approach utilizing AI to accelerate early detection and intervention may fundamentally alter the healthcare community's approach to combating this disease," says Dr. Oliver Keown, managing director of Intuitive Ventures, in the release. "Optellum is uniquely positioned to align and provide considerable value to patients, providers, and payers alike. Intuitive Ventures is thrilled to provide our full arsenal of financial and strategic support to Optellum as we work towards a world of better outcomes for cancer patients." Continue reading.

Houston-based biomaterials company raises $1.1M to grow team, build new HQ

BUCHA BIO has raised over $1 million to grow its team, build a new headquarters, and accelerate its go-to-market strategy. Image courtesy of BUCHA BIO

A Houston company that has created a plant-based material that can replace unsustainable conventional leathers and plastics has announced the close of its oversubscribed seed funding round.

BUCHA BIO announced it's raised $1.1 million in seed funding. The round included participation from existing partners New Climate Ventures, Lifely VC, and Beni VC, as well as from new partners Prithvi VC, Asymmetry VC, and investors from the Glasswall Syndicate, including Alwyn Capital, as well as Chris Zarou, CEO & Founder of Visionary Music Group and manager of multi-platinum Grammy-nominated rapper, Logic, the startup reports in a news release.

“I’m excited to back BUCHA BIO’s amazing early market traction," Zarou says in the release. "Their next-gen bio-based materials are game-changing, and their goals align with my personal vision for a more sustainable future within the entertainment industry and beyond.” Continue reading.

Houston-based Codenotary has expanded its series B fundraising round

Codenotary's software enables tools for notarization and verification of the software development life cycle. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston software startup that raised $12.5 million earlier this year has announced additional funding of $6 million. Codenotary, whose technology helps secure software supply chains, closed its series B round in January. The fresh funding brings the company's total investment raised to $24 million — thanks to investors Bluwat and Elaia.leaders and following a series A round that was announced in 2020.

Codenotary, formerly known as vChain, was founded in 2018 by CEO Moshe Bar and CTO Dennis Zimmer. The additional capital, which will go towards scaling up sales in the U.S. and Europe as well as entering the Asian market, was raised as an extension of the series B round. Continue reading.

Houston-based virtual reality startup raises $3.2M in first outside capital round

VR training startup, HTX Labs, has raised funding from an outside investor for the first time. Courtesy of HTX Labs

HTX Labs, a Houston-based company that designs extended reality training for military and business purposes, announced last week that it has raised its first outside capital.

The company has received a $3.2 million investment from Cypress Growth Capital. Founded in 2017, HTX Labs — developer of the EMPACT Immersive Learning Platform — has been granted funding from the Department of Defense as well as grown its client base of commercial Enterprises. The platform uses virtual and extended reality that "enables organizations to rapidly create, deploy, measure, and sustain cost-effective, secure, and centralized immersive training programs, all within engaging, fully interactive virtual environments," per a news release.

“We have been looking to secure outside capital to accelerate the growth of our EMPACT platform and customer base but we hadn’t found the right partner who provided an investment vehicle that matched our needs,“ says HTX Labs CEO Scott Schneider in the release. Continue reading.

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