getting pitch perfect

Here's what startups are going to the Venture Houston pitch competition's semifinals

A panel of judges selected 30 startups to compete in the Venture Houston pitch competition. Here's who's competing for over $1.7 million in investment prizes. Graphic courtesy of HX

Venture Houston — a two-day virtual conference put on by the HX Venture Fund — is slated for Thursday and Friday of this week, and, in addition to several panels, the event has a startup pitch competition with over $1.7 million on the line.

Judges selected 30 semifinalists and assigned to three different tracks — each named for a Houston sports team — for the competition. The semifinals will take place on Thursday, February 4, at 1:30 pm. Two startups from each track will move on to compete in the finals on Friday, February 5, at 1:30 pm. Three winners will claim cash prizes — first place will win $15,000 from Halliburton Labs, second place will win $10,000 from Softeq, and third place will win $5,000 from ChampionX.

InnovationMap is the media partner for Venture Houston. Click here to register for the two-day virtual event.

There are also 11 investment prizes on the line, and all of the 30 semifinalists are eligible to win those:

  • $500,000 from Fitz Gate Ventures
  • $250,000 from The Artemis Fund
  • $250,000 from Montrose Lane
  • $250,000 from Live Oak Venture Partners
  • $150,000 from Carnrite Ventures
  • $100,000 from Mercury Fund
  • $100,000 from Next Coast Ventures
  • $50,000 from Houston Angel Network
  • $50,000 from Texas Halo Fund
  • $50,000 from Plug and Play
  • $25,000 from baMa
Twenty-six judges — representatives from venture groups, startup development organizations, and more — evaluated entries and selected the following semifinalists for the competition:

Astros Track

Graphic courtesy of HX

Pitching order for this track is:
  1. Belmont Technology Inc - Jean-Marie Laigle
  2. Cemvita Factory - Blake Manuel
  3. Data Gumbo - AndrewBruce
  4. MacroFab - MishaGovshteyn
  5. Mainline - Chris Buckner
  6. Orbital Traction - Stuart Schaaf
  7. PATH EX - Sinead Miller
  8. Syzygy Plasmonics - Trevor Best
  9. Topl - Kim Raath
  10. Venus Aerospace - Sarah Duggleby

Dynamo Track

Graphic courtesy of HX

Pitching order for this track is:

  1. Bondwell Technologies - David Howell
  2. CaseCTRL - Pamela Singh
  3. Cinevva - Mariana Muntean
  4. Connectus Global - Michael Anderson
  5. Conversifi - Steven Krubiner
  6. DOSS - Bobby Bryant
  7. Koda Health - Tatiana Fofanova
  8. Sibme - David Wakefield
  9. The Postage - Emily Cisek
  10. Work & Mother - AbbeyDonnell


Rockets Track 

Graphic courtesy of HX

Pitching order for this track is:

  1. CellChorus - Daniel Meyer
  2. Finboa - Dheeraj Singal
  3. Galen Data - Chris DuPont
  4. HTX Labs - Scott Schneider
  5. Keto A.I Inc. - Jeff Jenson
  6. Lodgeur - Sebastien Long
  7. Nesh - Sidd Gupta
  8. ORDRS - Erik Ibarra
  9. Spark Biomedical Inc - Daniel Powell
  10. Grant Source - Allen Thorton

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Building Houston

 
 

Kelly Avant, investment associate at Houston-based Mercury Fund, shares how and why she made her way into the venture capital arena. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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