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

 
 

Ty Audronis founded Tempest Droneworx to put drone data to work. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

Ty Audronis quite literally grew up in Paradise. But the Northern California town was destroyed by wildfire in 2018, including Audronis’ childhood home.

“That’s why it’s called the Campfire Region,” says the founder, who explains that the flames were started by a spark off a 97-year-old transmission line.

But Audronis, who has literally written the book on designing purpose-built drones — actually, more than one — wasn’t going to sit back and let it happen again. Currently, wildfire prevention is limited to the “medieval technology” of using towers miles apart to check for smoke signals.

“By the time you see smoke signals, you’ve already got a big problem,” Audronis says.

His idea? To replace that system with real-time, three-dimensional, multi-spectral mapping, which exactly where his company, Tempest Droneworx, comes in.

When asked how he connected with co-founder Dana Abramowitz, Audronis admits that it was Match.com — the pair not only share duties at Tempest, they are engaged to be married. It was a 2021 pre-SXSW brainstorming session at their home that inspired the pair to start Tempest.

When Audronis mentioned his vision of drone battalions, where each is doing a specialized task, Abramowitz, a serial entrepreneur and founder who prefers to leave the spotlight to her partner, told him that he shouldn’t give the idea away at a conference, they should start a company. After all, Audronis is a pioneer in the drone industry.

“Since 1997, I’ve been building multicopters,” he says.

Besides publishing industry-standard tomes, he took his expertise to the film business. But despite its name, Tempest is a software company and does not make drones.

That software is called Harbinger. Audronis explains that the real-time management and visualization solution is viewable on practically any device, including mobile or augmented reality. The system uses a video game engine for viewing, but as Audronis puts it, “the magic happens” on the back end.

Harbinger is not just drone-agnostic, but can use crowd-sourced data as well as static sensors. With the example of wildfires in mind, battalions can swarm an affected area to inform officials, stopping a fire before it gets out of hand. But fires are far from Harbinger’s only intended use.

The civilian version of Harbinger will be available for sale at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024. For military use, Navy vet Audronis says that the product just entered Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 5, which means that they are about 18 months away from a full demo. The latest news for Tempest is that earlier this month, it was awarded a “Direct to Phase II” SBIR (Government Small Business Innovation Research) contract with the United States Department of the Air Force.

Not bad for a company that was, until recently, fully bootstrapped. He credits his time with the Houston Founder Institute, from which he graduated last February, and for which he now mentors, with many of the connections he’s made, including SBIR Advisors, who helped handle the complex process of getting their SBIR contract.

And he and Abramowitz have no plans to end their collaborations now that they’re seeing growth.

“Our philosophy behind [our business] isn’t keeping our cards close to our vest,” says Audronis. “Any potential competitors, we want to become partners.”

The company was just the two founders until five weeks ago, when Tempest’s size doubled, including a full-time developer. Once Tempest receives its SIBR check, the team will grow again to include more developers. They are currently looking for offices in the city. As Audronis says, Tempest Droneworx is “100-percent made in Houston.” Paradise may have been lost, but with Harbinger soon to be available, such a disaster need never happen again.

Dana Abramowitz and Ty Audronis co-founded Tempest Droneworks. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

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