Powered by oil, research universities, cutting-edge medical, and more oil, Houston startups have a particular swagger you won’t find elsewhere
Powered by oil, research universities, cutting-edge medical, and more oil, Houston startups have a particular swagger you won’t find elsewhere. Houston was named after former General Sam Houston, the first President of the Republic of Texas. Much like the man, the city is huge, sprawling, boisterous, contradictory, and somewhat crude at times.
The largest city in Texas and the fourth-largest in America, Houston leveraged their port on the Gulf of Mexico into a railroad powerhouse, primarily used to ship cotton, bringing business and settlers. When oil was found in Texas, refineries started in Houston, and now the area is one of the most concentrated oil producing areas in the world.
More Fortune 500 companies call Houston home than any other city except New York. Unlike that city to the northeast, Houston has the nickname “Space City” for all the NASA activity. Perhaps due to the port, Houston claims to be the most diverse city in the U.S. That melting pot energy, and concentration of technical expertise at NASA and several local universities, may explain the booming startup scene.
1. A-76 Technologies
Those who visit Houston for the first time admit surprise at the heat and humidity. What does that mean beside bad hair? Rust. Everywhere, and on everything. At least until you apply Rust Patrol from A-76 Technologies (Aidant Brands). Since they focus on oil and gas and maritime businesses, Houston is the perfect place for them. Since household items suffer from heat and humidity as well, A-76 went commercial with Rust Patrol.
Co-founders Lauren Thompson Miller and Tim Aramill got started fighting the rust and lubrication fight in 2014. Two funding rounds of $2.5 million each, from Southern Funds Group and Houston Angel Network (among others) came in February 2015 and January 2016.
2. Big Delta Systems
Lithium-ion batteries power modern devices ranging from your fitness tracker to your Tesla. Pushing the batteries too hard makes the news when phones burst into flames. Big Delta Systems, spun out of Rice University in August 2014, is developing key components using a breakthrough manufacturing process to lower Li-on battery cost and dramatically improve performance.
Founders Charudatta Galande, Neelam Singh, and Adrian Yao started with $1 million in seed funding, and added another $1 million in the fall of 2015. No guarantees, of course, but if this works your Li-on powered devices, from smart watch to smart phone to electric car, will become much more usable. Big Delta seems to be on the right track, as shown by winning the Goradia Innovation Prize awarded by the Houston Technology Center in October 2016.
3. Decisio Health
For patients in a hospital, getting the right information really is a matter of life or death. Decisio Health’s Clinical Intelligence Platform was designed for the clinical care team by doctors working in critical care. Decisio’s software watches the stream of clinical information input by doctors and test and monitoring equipment and display those details on a large screen beside the patient’s bed.
Founder Bryan Haardt and five doctors started their work in April 2013, commercializing technology developed at the University of Texas Health Science Cetner of Houston. The UT Horizon Fund started invested in May 2015 with a convertible note. Unlisted investors kicked in $2.5 million Series A funding in February 2016, and Declatex, Larry Lawson, and the UT Horizon Fund comprised a Series B investment of $4.5 million.
It’s nice when companies talk an angel investor or VC firm out of a few hundred K, but that’s no guarantee customers will care. But getting 3,270-percent funded (a total of $1.2 million) on IndieGoGo at a minimum $89 a pop says people smell what you’re cooking and like it. In this case, Knocki is a hockey-puck like smart device you attach to any surface and teach it to trigger events like turning on lights, send a text, or send a panic alert to your security firm just by knocking on that surface.
Completely funded back in July 2016, Knocki first received $50k seed money in May 2015 then another $750k in August of that same year. That took them to IndieGoGo, $1.2 million, and now customers await.
Making high-tech prototypes and products looks simple on TV, but the work of designing, building, and testing those in the real world is hard, complicated work. MacroFab moved the design and layout chores to a cloud which integrates with each customer’s own software. Then they make one-offs and small batches to help you through testing. Happy? MacroFab then ramps up production and your design becomes a product. MacroFab is perfectly poised to help you create the new world of Internet of Things devices.
After $100K seed investment in 2013, founders Chris Church and Parker Dillmann’s work was rewarded with another $600K in the spring of 2014. Just over a year later they landed $2,000,000 from TechStars Ventures. Early investors, joined by Japan’s Dentsu Ventures and Enhanced Jobs for Texas rounded up another $3.05 million in early 2017.
6. Medical Informatics
With a product name out of the first Star Trek TV series, Sickbay, Medical Informatics promises to “transform patient data into actionable clinical intelligence.” The FDA approved their “Clinical Intelligence Platform” that is vendor neutral and ties together patient information from a variety of sources.
Founded by CEO Emma Fauss and CTO Craig Rusin, who met while getting their PhDs at the University of Virginia (Fauss also earned an MBA from Rice University), they moved to Houston to partner with the Texas Children’s Hospital. Funded by that partnership and the OwlSpark incubator for $.63 million and a two other seed amounts not announced, MIC is now living off product revenue.
7. Molecule Software
Nothing screams “Houston” like energy, finance, and trading. Molecule Software wraps them all together in a cloud-based ETRM (Energy Trading and Risk Management) suite of tools. All are cloud based and energy-focused. They claim their software, “gets smarter every day and has no implementation fees.”
Founders Sameer Soleja and Sam Pairkh started the company in August 2012 with $480k seed money from SURGE Accelerator. They followed that in December 2013 with $775k from the Mercury Fund and $1.08 million from Houston Angel Network just over a year later. Yes, a little trading company in Houston powers trades by the largest oil & gas companies and multiple high-powered hedge funds.
Remember the “Space City” tag for Houston? NanoRacks takes their services to space, providing, “Disruptive use of the outer space environment for researches, educational users, and government agencies via our own open-source facilities on the Internet Space station today,” When third parties like Virgin Galactic head up, up, and away, NanoRacks will be helping because they are the, “Operating System of Space.”
Founder and CEO Jeffrey Manbar and founder and CTO Michael Johnson each have about as much space savvy and experience as you can get on the ground, or probably more. VC Esther Dyson and four others got them started with $495k in summer of 2011 and 10 investors filled the cash drawer with $4,500,00 two summers later.
The old saying is, “Nothing happens in America until somebody sells something.” Still true today, but sales support and training has become a lost art. Revenade, started in 2010, built a business dedicated to accelerating sales performance from potential to exponential. Their four products: RevGuide, RevLaunch, RevTrain, and RevZone.
Bootstrapped and self-funded, co-founder Andrew Koller (formerly a physics major at Rice University) has built the company up to about 40 employees and an estimated $10 million in revenue.
The Houston medical environment has been cutting edge for decades. First heart transplant in America occurred in Houston on May 3, 1968, and the world has viewed Houston as a source of medical leadership ever since. SemanticMD continues that run with their SemanticMD Cloud platform to ease image viewing and analysis, and increase deep machine learning ability to analyze images.
Founder and CTO Santosh Bhavani studied at Carnegie Mellon University, which became one of several seed investors, along with KALI Holdings Co. Ltd. and TMCx Accelerator. Funding totals weren’t released, but Carnegie Mellon has long been a leader in artificial intelligence, and radiology is the target of considerable effort to improve accuracy by replacing human eyes with artificial ones.