TMCx, Microsoft Buys XOXCO, Self Lender Raises $10M & More TX Tech

Let’s catch up with the latest innovation news in Texas.

—The Texas Medical Center’s accelerator TMCx graduated its seventh class of startups, 23 health IT companies which included nine international startups. Erik Halvorsen, director of the TMC Innovation Institute, said that in the four-month program, the startups had signed four agreements each, including strategic partnerships, sales contracts, and others. Since TMCx’s start in 2015, a total of 111 companies have raised $230 million in total funding. (The accelerator also hosts an annual class of medical device companies.) “We are increasingly successful at raising money in Houston,” Halvorsen said. “We have had five investor groups co-located [at the Innovation Institute] and are talking to three or four” more.

—Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has acquired XOXCO, an Austin-based maker of conversational AI and bot technologies. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The five-year-old XOXCO has developed Howdy, the first commercially available bot for Slack to help schedule meetings, as well as Botkit, which provides development tools used by developers on GitHub, Microsoft said in a press release. The XOXCO acquisition is the latest in a string of deals by the Seattle tech company, which bought Semantic Machines in May, Bonsai in July, Lobe in September, and GitHub in October. “Our goal is to make AI accessible and valuable to every individual and organization, amplifying human ingenuity with intelligent technology,” Microsoft said in the statement.

—Speaking of artificial intelligence, Manoj Saxena, founder of AI startup Cognitive Scale, has donated $1 million to set up a faculty position focused on responsible AI development at Michigan State University. (Saxena got his MBA from MSU in 1991.) Saxena, who used to lead IBM’s Watson program in Austin, has zeroed in on AI as technology’s next frontier, founding and investing in AI startups and starting organizations such as AI Global, an Austin-based organization focusing on responsible AI development composed of organization such as the World Economic Forum, the University of Texas at Austin, and USAA, the insurance company serving members of the military.

—Austin-based Pilosa has raised $3.6 million of a $5.4 million round of funding. The startup makes an open-source index software that speeds up data analysis and was founded by H.O. Maycotte, who also started Umbel. Pilosa is also one of the startups in the inaugural Oracle accelerator program in Austin.

—Fintech startup Self Lender has raised a $10 million Series B round of funding led by Altos Ventures, with additional participation from Silverton Partners, Accion Venture Lab, and others. The company will use the funding to make new hires, software development, and marketing, it said in a press release. Self Lender is aimed at consumers with poor or no credit score and is designed so that an individual would “make a tiny loan to your future self,” James Garvey, the founder and CEO, told me in a 2017 interview. That money is saved for a finite period of time, after which the account holder gains access to the principal and a tiny amount of interest, and (ideally) sees an uptick in his or her credit score.

Huston-Tillotson University, a historically black college in Austin, will open a new larger location for its Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation next month. The campus has space to house nonprofits and part of its mission will focus on using technology for social innovation, Steven Edmond, dean of Huston-Tillotson’s School of Business and Technology, said in an interview with the Austin American-Statesman. “Our focus is on women and minorities, but we’ll take all comers,” he said.

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