Conversable, Impact Hub, data.world, Localeur, ACC & More TX Tech
Let’s get caught up with the latest innovation news in Texas.
—Conversable, maker of an AI-enabled chatbot technology, has been acquired by LivePerson, a New York-based provider of mobile and online messaging software. Among the customers of Conversable, which is based in Austin and Dallas, are Whole Foods and TGI Fridays. “Conversational commerce is about using AI and natural language to interact with a brand,” Robert LoCascio, LivePerson’s CEO and founder, said in a press release. “Consumers do not want to download more apps or navigate websites to order ahead. They want to type, tap or voice order what they want from the messaging services they already enjoy.”
—Juliana Garaizar, the former managing director at the Houston Angel Network, has become the first director of the Texas Medical Center Venture Fund. TMC launched the $25 million fund a year ago to complement its other innovation activities, which include its TMCx accelerator. In her new role, Garaizar will also lead the TMC’s international objectives, namely the BioBridge program with currently have partnerships with Australian and British healthcare institutions.
—Kiromic, a Houston-based immunotherapy drug developer, has received a $2.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for a gene therapy treatment that targets an inherited genetic disorder, familial hypercholesterolemia (FH), according to the company’s grant proposal. FH makes it harder for the body to remove excess LDL cholesterol (the bad one), which can lead to heart disease and heart attacks, according the FH Foundation. Kiromic is developing a gene therapy, so-called fork-head box protein 3 (FOXP3), that would aim to break up the plaque in the arteries that lead to heart attacks, said CEO and founder Maurizio Chiriva-Internati in a recent interview. The company also plans to use a disease-limited transcriptional promoter that would help it express its therapy only where it’s needed, the proposal said. Kiromic plans to use the money, which was granted in August, for a clinical study in primates, which the company hopes will lead to a Phase 1 trial, Chiriva-Internati said. Kiromic has other drugs in Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials that aim to train T-cells in the immune system to attack and destroy cancer.
—Quick Sip, a cold-brew coffee maker in San Antonio, won $25,000 last week during the Stumberg Competition hosted by Trinity University’s Entrepreneurship Center. The event pitted four student-run businesses against one another in a pitch contest. A panel of judges, which included Cat Dizon, the newly hired executive director of Alamo Angels, picked the winner. The other teams were Patch, which makes a pill bottle that tracks the patient’s use of his or her medication; Intersourcing, a company focused on international production; and augmented-reality appmaker Mona. Each of the student-led startups received $5,000 earlier this year after winning a pitch competition to qualify to pitch in Thursday’s final round.
—Impact Hub, which runs an affordability accelerator in Austin, has announced its latest class of startups, which are focusing on affordable housing. They include companies using tech tools to provide peer-to-peer lending networks, senior co-living spaces, and other programs targeted to help people find sustainable and affordable homes.
—Workday Ventures, along with the Associated Press and OurCrowd, participated in a $12 million strategic funding round for Austin startup data.world. The investment brings data.world’s total funding to $45.3 million since its launch in 2016. “People who are deeply analyzing data are not in decision-making positions and decision makers seldom understand the complexities of data,” said Brett Hurt, co-founder and CEO of data.world, in a press release. “Next-gen companies like Airbnb and Warby Parker were built to be data-driven from the ground up, and traditional Global 2000 companies are significantly behind and very motivated to catch up.”
—Two new companies are starting an incubator operated by EPIcenter, an organization that promotes education and innovation in renewables and the “new energy” sector. San Antonio-based Vesta Systems is an energy storage company that wants to improve safety and capacity. Drones of Prey, based in Austin, makes security software that aims to identify, track, and capture incoming drones. Called the New Energy Incubator and Accelerator, the program offers three levels of programming: pre-incubation for the earliest-stage companies, incubation for growing young businesses, and acceleration for slightly more advanced startups. A third business, Talking Walls of San Antonio, went through the pre-incubation phase and is now starting the incubator. San Antonio-based Go Smart Solar is also in the program. [Corrected to note Go Smart Solar is still in the program.]
—BuildASign, an Austin maker of canvas-wall print decor and other business signage, has been acquired by Cimpress (NASDAQ: CMPR) in a $280 million deal. Cimpress is a company based in the Netherlands that specializes in the mass-customization business. BuildASign, which was founded in 2005, posted $129 million in revenue for the year ended Aug. 31, representing year-over-year growth of more than 20 percent, according to a press release.
—Austin Community College has received a $2 million grant from the Texas Military Preparedness Commission’s Defense Economic Adjustment Assistance Grant program. The funds, which were given in partnership with the University of Texas and the U.S. Army, will be used to build facilities supporting the new Army Futures Command in Austin. The U.S. Defense Department chose Austin to be home to the Army’s tech-focused reorganization efforts in July.
—Drillinginfo, an oil-and-gas analytics company in Austin, has acquired Denver-based Oildex, which is a payment management company. Oildex had been a portfolio company of KKR-Accel. “By acquiring Oildex, we immediately expand our E&P and oilfield services base and reach across the energy value chain with Oildex’s full suite of financial automation solutions for automating invoicing, payments, field tickets, and data exchange,” Jeff Hughes, Drillinginfo’s CEO and president, said in a news release.
—Pop up store Neighborhood Goods has announced its first location in the Dallas suburb of Plano. The retailer raised $5.75 million in May to help develop what co-founder Matt Alexander calls the next evolution of the department store. The store features 30 brands, including Draper James, the brand founded by actress Reese Witherspoon, a restaurant, and have regular events.
—Localeur, the Austin-based travel recommendations startup, has a new partnership with dating company Match.com, founder Joah Spearman told me. In the tie-up, Match did a survey of its users to learn more about connections between business travel and dating and have created a website on the best date spots in 10 major cities in the U.S. Localeur now features nearly 100 cities worldwide.
Xconomy National Correspondent David Holley contributed to this report.