Texas Roundup: Appconomy and NanoRacks Expand, Upgrade

6/14/13Follow @angelashah

In Texas, school is already out and the lazy days of summer have begun in earnest. But things are not slowing down in the Texas startup scene, with companies this week making announcements of fundraising and product upgrades for customers as far-flung as in China and low Earth orbit.

—NanoRacks, the Houston space-science startup located a stone’s throw away from NASA, announced today it has raised $2.6 million. Emerge, a Brussels-based venture capital firm focused on early-stage startups in telecom and e-commerce, is the lead investor to the tune of $1.5 million in the Series A round for NanoRacks. Chris Cummins, NanoRacks’ CFO, says the remainder of the investment is largely from individuals from Texas and California.

He added that the money will be used to fund development of the company’s external platform—a test bed for advanced electronics and materials experiments—that is mounted outside onto the International Space Station. It would be located on the “back porch” of the station’s Japanese module.

Being outside in space “gives you an entirely different environment for radiation; there’s a vacuum,” says Jeffrey Manber, NanoRacks’ CEO and founder.

NanoRacks next plans to return to space in April 2014.

—Austin, TX-based Appconomy, which provides mobile marketing and e-commerce platforms for Chinese retailers, announced on Thursday that it has made a significant upgrade to its Zhangyingbao service. This allows users of its consumer-to-consumer mobile platform—which is called Taobao—to be able to create branded mobile apps on their smartphones without any technical skills and in less than five minutes, the company says.

The Zhangyingbao service will help merchants on Taobao, which functions similarly to eBay where individuals and small businesses are selling items to other individuals. Now, these sellers can have as many as 200 products on display, versus the previous limit of 50 products. This gives each Taobao merchant more content to put in front of potential customers. Appconomy says Taobao is the biggest consumer-to-consumer online shopping platform in China.

Steve Guengerich, a co-founder of Appconomy, says Taobao currently has 6 million merchants signed up, of which 1 million are small, virtual-only shops. “For them, having a no-tech, no-cost mobile app is a no-brainer,” he says.

In May, the company, which is based in Austin and Shanghai, unveiled its “Smart Shopping App” in a soft launch in Shanghai. Customers use the app to upload shopping lists that the app then matches to maps of the store in order to plot out the most efficient route, among other services.

Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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